In the Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger discussed their belief that the rise in popularity of the Internet shows that individuals are desperately seeking the return of the “human voice.” They described the Web as “a global set of conversations – people talking together, in their own voices about what they care about.” The Internet makes it possible for individuals around the world to connect and talk about things they believe are important. The authors argued that this medium is allowing markets to get smarter and requires companies to respond to concerns raised by these markets at a faster pace. Companies are successful when they tear down their firewalls and allow employees to communicate with consumers. The authors argued:

Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

They believe that “markets are conversations” and businesses will benefit tremendously by joining the conversation. They urge, however, that these conversations have to be genuine. The authors argued, “conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.” Consumers are tired of “corporate speak” in which company websites look like an online version of the company’s brochure. In Chapter two, Weinberger argued that our voice is important because it is a part of who we are and expresses our thoughts and feelings. He argued, “it gives style and shape to content.” Therefore, if companies are constantly censoring what their employees say, the end result is a one-way conversation in which the consumer is speaking but the company is not giving a real response.

The authors made very strong arguments in this book. The Saturn newsgroup example given in Chapter three shows how fast a conversation among consumers can spread and what happens when an employee is allowed to speak openly. Although I don’t think this employee was given permission to speak on behalf of Saturn, the information he provided was valuable and may have, to a certain extent, saved Saturn’s reputation. This example proves the point the authors made about the benefits to be derived from a company joining the conversation. I strongly agree with the authors’ argument that “a critical aspect of success with large numbers of customers lies in listening to them. It’s not enough for employees to talk.” How can a company know what their consumers want if they are not willing to listen?

Some of the arguments made in this book are consistent with the arguments made by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in Naked Conversations. For example, in Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors stated, “in most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.” Scoble and Israel argued that the future success of PR lies in their ability to let go of the traditional command-and-control school of communication and subscribe to the listen-and-participate form of communication. This means that companies should stop trying to control the conversation and learn to listen to their consumers and participate by allowing their employees to give unfiltered responses.

In Chapter three, Rick Levine discussed Sun’s experience with launching the Java Developer Connection Web site which was to provide technical support to the Java developer community. He stated:

We now have a free site with question-and-answer forums where developers answer each other directly. We added a tap into Sun’s Java software bug database and provided a means for developers to add their own notes and work-arounds to our bug information, as well as vote for the bugs they wanted us to fix soonest.

This is an example of the argument Eric Raymond made in The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Raymond stated, “treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.” This is yet another example of how companies can benefit by allowing their consumers open access to their products.

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