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Investing In The Cluetrain

Nov 4, 2008 Michael Wurzer

I’ve seen some interesting political blog posts this year, including some controversy over guys like Tim O’Reilly posting about politics on their otherwise tech-oriented blogs.  Mr. O’Reilly makes the point, though not exactly in these words, that airing such personal views is exactly what the Cluetrain is all about: bringing a human and personal voice and face to an otherwise impersonal corporation.

All corporations are run by people and the fundamental premise of the Cluetrain is that those buying products from the company want a conversation with those real people, not the fiction the corporate marketing department wants to put forward.  The web enables interpersonal conversations on a new level, whether it’s blogs or Twitter or Facebook or forums or one or more of the many other opportunities.

Yet this very act of personalizing the corporation raises all sorts of interesting issues, most especially who is involved in the conversations?  In our (FBS’s) case, I’ve very much enjoyed engaging in discussions online.  In that respect, I guess I am the social media director for FBS.  Another approach is to try to hire a social media director. Regardless of who is involved in the conversation, however, the reality is that these are real people involved and that raises two inter-related questions: (1) if the person is successful in engaging in market conversations, is or should that success be transferrable to others in the organization; and (2) if not, how does a company prepare for the hit by the bus risk?

Put another way, how much is being invested in the people at companies best able to engage in the market conversations in a real way?  One of the reasons companies are valuable is because they can transfer skills and processes to others over the long term, building brand equity as a result.  Is that investment now all of a sudden only in the people who become the real face and voice of the organization?

The answer to these questions may be to give voice to as many people in the company as possible.  Those doing the work have the most to say.  That’s easier said than done.  Some great talents prefer not to have market conversations.  Is the Cluetrain suggesting that such jobs are dead?  Everyone must engage?  Or is the focus now on new roles like social media director or some other title? Personally, I believe the former is more likely than the latter.  What do you think?