“The Cluetrain Manifesto,” Local Government and Emergencies

I recently completed teaching an online graduate class at The George Washington University about social media. As I designed the class and envisioned the curriculum, I knew immediately “The Cluetrain Manifesto” would be a central component.

For those not familiar with this landmark book published in 1999, it detailed what we’re now living through today in our social media world. It was a very prescient book at the time (and still deeply relevant today).

“The Cluetrain Manifesto” consists of 95 theses such as:

  • Markets are conversations.
  • Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  • …markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  • Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

If you’ve never read this book or looked at the 95 theses, then you may be saying, “Um, yes, that very much sounds like today’s world.”

So I asked my students to share thoughts about “The Cluetrain Manifesto” throughout the course. One student, in particular, provided a wonderful bridge between the manifesto and social media in emergency management (#smem for those that do not follow the hashtag on Twitter):

“Currently Colorado is undergoing tremendous wildfires, so the theses can be seen very readily within my local community daily.  For example, #34 talks about “companies must share the concerns of their communities,” and this is especially felt when the community the local government is in undergoes an emergency such as a wildfire. The government cannot have a detached response to the emergency, they must express their concern in every way imaginable – twitter updates, website posts, etc. The media and the entire community are waiting on baited breath for updates and the local government must be responsive, timely, and by utilizing many different forms of media. Also, the community has a desire and a want “to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall,” as #62 alludes to.  They want to be heard as well as be updated as timely as possible because this goes beyond a product or an idea that we are trying to sell, but instead impacts the very structures of their life and livelihood. This correlates very closely with #83 that states “We want you to take . . . us as seriously as you take one reporter” in that the focus needs to be on the community and not on what the media needs to hear. Questions such as when can I get back in my neighborhood, is my house destroyed, etc. are much more personal than the media who is looking at another news story. Using social media allows the local government to communicate the issues and facts of the emergency in many ways to help prevent and refute misinformation that just as readily flows during a time of crisis.”

I LOVE this response at it states the connections so well (with a tinge of passion for this student’s community).

Another student wrote:

#95 states that we are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching, but we are not waiting. So important in the event of an emergency. We can’t sit around and wait to see what the aftermath is, we have to know and be able to react.”

Social media has roots, though that may be counterintuitive to many people. “The Cluetrain Manifesto” still astounds me today with its insight that was well ahead of its time. Some days I wish a new manifesto would come out to accurately predict what’s coming next, but too many people still need to read these 95 and understand the world in which we live — and I still need to work hard everyday to fulfill the accurate expectations of today’s networked world.

What theses resonate the most with you today?


6 comments on ““The Cluetrain Manifesto,” Local Government and Emergencies

  1. Thanks for digging #Cluetrain. Gratifying to see it remaining persistently relevant.

    Also interesting to see the Colorado fire example. I happened to fly over those fires while they were happening, and posted photos, here in hope that they might be useful. From the feedback I got, they were.

    On the social media topic, on the plus side it’s good to see how well social media connects people and makes markets (to some degree) conversational. I should add, however, that I’m disappointed personally that so much of social media is silo’d inside one big company. The open Net remains the truly social environment. Facebook is a big subset of that, but it’s still just a subset.

    Finally, a plug, recommending subsequent books by David Weinberger, Chris Locke and myself. (My own is here: ) 🙂

    • Doc, as one of the authors of “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” thanks for commenting! It is indeed persistently relevant.

      I agree with your comment that for many orgs, social is silo’d and only the PR or marketing or _____ department gets to use. Its true power rests with all employees using it no matter their department to talk about their jobs, their experiences and to connect with the networked world. At the government level, that means police officers, public works employees and more.

      Unfortunately, that concept may need to cook in the proverbial “generational oven” a bit longer.

  2. I see that the comment system strips out links. So, for the colorado fires, look up my name, flickr and “West Fork Fire”. For the book(s) look up our names on Amazon.

  3. Pingback: Government as Evocative and Provocative Publishers | The Digital PIO

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