The Cluetrain Manifesto was one of the more frustrating books I’ve read on the subject of the Internet and marketing. Not only do the authors assume that all marketing and PR workers shamelessly misuse the Internet for their profession, they also slander them in the process (p. 160, “Dishonesty in PR is pro forma. A press release is written as a plainly fake news story, with headline, dateline, quotes, and all the dramatic tension of a phone number.”). Additionally, the authors presume that their way of leveraging the Internet (by joining the conversation online, giving up corporate control of online communications, and relating to real people rather than a “target audience”) is the best and only way to do business. However, the one-size-fits-all-people-versus-the-man approach to PR and marketing through the Internet is just too simplistic, arrogant, and frustrating for the little valuable insight that I got out of the book.
While this book may have been revolutionary when it came out at least ten years ago, the main point – that individuals doing business need to leverage the Internet with authenticity, truth, and with a sense that the people on the other end of the computer want to be a part of a conversation - seems to be common knowledge to most marketing and public relations professionals today. Most good marketers, public relations officials, and general business people need to contend with a number of strategic issues that were not addressed in the book and that would help make the author’s ideas more realistic: budgets to hire enough staff to join all of these Internet conversations, and finding the appropriate target audiences, and if, how, and when those target audiences use the Internet to know how to best shape a strategy.
Contrary to what the authors assume, there there doesn’t seem to be just one way to address customers through the web. Instead, the authors make claims like the one on page 159, “Engaging in this open, free-wheeling marketplace exchanges isn’t optional. It’s a prerequisite to having a future. Silence is fatal.” Yet, in some circumstances, silence may make sense. Law firms may not want to staff for online conversations when they'd ideally like to bill for them, organizations that work in high-security situations probably don't want to have free wheeling employees presenting their ideas and opinions online.
I found the most useful chapter to be the one on the hyperlinked organization (Chapter 5) and that was primarily for classification purposes. It talks about the democratization of the Internet through hyperlinks. The authors provide seven basic traits of the web that I found useful. They include:
1. Hyperlinking, which is a way to connect one web page to another, enabling the linking of information.
2. Decentralization. No one manages the Net.
3. Hyper time. Internet time moves much faster than normal time. People want faster answers and faster connections.
4. Open, direct access. People can access information directly.
5. Rich data. Information is linked, contains graphics, and can contain data from a number of sources.
6. Broken. The web isn’t perfect, and will never be so. It is ever-evolving.
7. Borderless. Hyperlinks make it unclear where one person’s stuff begins and another person’s stuff ends.
Overall, however, I don't believe the information gleaned from this book justifies its arrogant tone.