Overenthusiastic Cluetrainers a Chafe

Here's something that really bugs the crap out of me. Go read this piece. Are you back? Good.

I'm a fan of the Cluetrain Manifesto, but sometimes I think being a Cluetrain fan can be taken to the same extreme as the Ayn Rand die-hards take Atlas Shrugged. (You know the joke - anyone who finishes Atlas Shrugged and enjoys it will be an unrelenting dick for at least a month afterward.) Sometimes the same is true of Cluetrainers.

One symptom of taking the "markets are conversations" thing too far is a distaste for commercializing anything on the net. It's this naive assumption that everything on the Internet should be free of commercial interests that really bugs me. Some Cluetrainers have said to me, flat out, that the Internet was fine before it was commercialized and that it could do fine without all these commercial interests. Bullshit.

Google didn't buy Blogger because it was the cool thing to do. They did it because they believe they can monetize it at some point. Same goes for any Internet company that's been acquired over the years. Nobody acquires companies because they think they're cool. They do it because they want to make money. And thank God some of these companies have been acquired, because producing cool tools or content without a revenue model is a one-way ticket to the dot com graveyard.

That's why it bugs me to see the author of this piece waving the paranoia flags with regard to Technorati's need to make money. That's playing to the paranoia of netizens and rallying them against anything commercial.

More below the fold. But that's not the only thing that bugged me about this piece. It seemed to imply that Technorati is doing something wrong in giving visibility into the blogosphere to corporate interests. Now let me tell you something about corporate America.

As much as everyone (myself included) would love to see corporate America's marketing methods turn on a dime, that's so completely unrealistic as to be absurd. I'd love to see corporate folks representing their companies in conversations about products, lifestyles, interests and whatnot. But it's the singularly rare corporation that can turn something like that around overnight. To expect overnight evolution is just plain silly.

I've been selling clients on online marketing programs for 11 years now, and I still have clients who simply want to shovel TV commercials online. I still have clients who don't want any sort of interactivity in their campaigns, because they're afraid of consumer-generated content and what happens when someone decides to launch a tirade against their product. I still have clients who won't use interactive media to its greatest potential out of fear of consumer control.

That's not a testament to my lack of skills in guiding my clients through the interactive landscape. Just about everyone who does what I do has the same problem. Rather, it's a testament to the power of corporate inertia. It's a tough thing to battle, and in many ways, getting clients to change the ways in which they think about communications channels is like trying to turn a supertanker around in a narrow harbor.

Changes have to be made gradually. That's the only way change will come about in the corporate sphere. It took clients long enough to get involved in interactive communications. It happened only after many years of cautious toe-dipping and continual hammering home of the benefits to the bottom line.

So who can blame Technorati for playing to corporate fears of lost control? That's what they're most concerned about at this point. To get corporations closer to the philosophies outlined in the Cluetrain Manifesto, we have to move them there gradually. So the FUD thing definitely applies - corporate America needs a swift kick in the ass to even realize they have a problem. Providing visibility into that problem is the first step.

Yes, there will be many corporate blunders as companies ham-handedly try to control the message. They'll learn from their mistakes. But the mistakes have to be made first in order to get where we're going. If corporate America doesn't understand the problem first, they'll just stagnate and continue to ignore the problem instead of moving slowly in the direction we've outlined.

Getting companies to "track and eavesdrop on millions of such ... conversations" is exactly the first step that needs to be taken. Corporations first need to give a shit about what's going on in the blogosphere before they can participate. Sure, their initial participation is likely to be characterized by dimwitted attempts to control the message, but that's better than not participating at all, which is what we have to look forward to if nothing changes. Participation in meaningful ways will come with time (and a lot of trial-and-error).

So, yeah, you can sit there and espouse participation rather than control, but that's unrealistic for a lot of corporate interests. They'll finally come around to witnessing the conversations surrounding their products, services, categories and audiences and many of them won't like what they see. They'll try to influence through control. They'll get smacked down. Then they'll learn. To expect it to happen any other way is unrealistic.

I realize this isn't a popular view. But I've seen many other attempts to get corporate entities to change their thinking overnight, and it's never pretty.

So I think the Technorati pitch described in this piece is right on target. Show the corporations what they're missing first. Rely on Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to motivate them to pay attention. And let them dip their toes in the blogosphere. It's a step in the right direction. The alternative is no step at all.

To be fair, I'd agree with the author that I'd rather be in the business of helping to "teach the corporate world how to publish content that is real, and of value to its communities rather than help the corporate world monitor and control the content published by others." But I think the real choice here is between the lesser of two evils - the wrong action or no action at all.