Disclosure: This month, I celebrate my year anniversary as a Contributing Writer for MarketingProfs Get to the Po!nt newsletters. I’m also a MarketingProfs Pro member. I recently attended the MarketingProfs Business-to-Business Forum, in Boston, MA, where I heard David Weinberger speak on the power of the new digital disorder. In this post, I offer my personal lessons learned, from Weinberger’s thoughtful, and thought-provoking, keynote.
The keynote on the first day of the MarketingProfs Business to Business Forum 2010 was by David Weinberger, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which ten years ago outlined how people need to change their way of thinking, to take full advantage of the opportunities created by the connectiveness of the Web. Speaking on “What Marketers Are Still Missing: The Power of the New Digital Disorder,” Weinberger reviewed defining characteristics of networks and showed how the Web has rewritten our most basic understanding of how business works. By harnessing these changes and thinking differently, Weinberger called on marketers to strive for greater transparency, and to resist opportunities that are not in the best interest of business or the Internet.
Five Properties of Networks
During the lunch-time presentation, Weinberger described the five properties of networks on the Internet.
- Large: “Networked conversations know more about the business than the business may itself.”
- Always Different: “Networks always change.” “Someone who is engaged at one moment, may be disengaged the next.” “You cannot step into the same network twice.”
- Transparent: Networks today are comprised of transparent sources, a transparent self, transparent humanity, and transparent interests. This transparency includes a recognition of our own fallibility. Transparency fosters trust—it enables us to trust facts (via transparent sources), you as a person (transparent self), and what you’re up to (transparent interests).
- Integrated Channels: The Internet is an information medium, communication medium, and social medium—all at the same time. It’s “almost impossible not to form groups, Weinberger explained, “even when we’re just going to the Net for information.” The Internet does not respect the walls around business functionality. Each link represents a connection to something we care about.
- Interests Level Rank: Business on the Net is governed by interest; the default on the Web is to hide rank. If you pull rank, it’s considered bad form, because rank inhibits conversation. Instead, the Net fosters an environment of disagreement and ambiguity.
Tips for Engaging on the Net
Weinberger advised “embrace this mess,” as represented by the full engagement spectrum, on the Internet, both positive and negative. He provided these specific tips:
- Engage in social media, but as you do it, embrace the entire spectrum of engagement. We need a variety of ways to engage. Social media alone is not enough; we must address all interests, all at once.
- Don’t be afraid to acknowledge negative comments, to admit that you are fallible, or to disagree. “It’s the disagreement that makes the conversation richer,” Weinberger observed. In a network based on difference, he noted it’s better to have a transparent disagreement, than a phony agreement.
- Engage on the Net, similar to how we engage in politics. This approach leads to people both loving and hating you, at the same time. (This is a good thing, Weinberger implied.) Make sure to stand for something.
- Tell the truth, even in the simple things, down to the product specifications on your site. Make us understand what you stand behind; don’t fake it.
- Resist opportunities: “Don’t use every case to insert your ideas into the environment.” Participate in conversations, carefully.
- Be vigilant about keeping access to the Internet open. (During the Question and Answers after the keynote, Weinberger referred to this as a “dangerous time in Internet history,” expressing concerns over continued open access to the Net. For more on these views , he referred the audience to his blog.)
A Call to Action
In probably the most memorable moment of his MarketingProfs keynote, Weinberger revised the quotation, “markets are conversations,” (arguably the most well-known premise from The ClueTrain Manifesto), with the appended insight that “not all conversations are markets.”
Weinberger’s meaning here, and the implications for us today, is perhaps clearer, and just as challenging, when we recall those powerful words from The ClueTrain Manifesto, now some ten years ago:
Market leaders were men and women whose hands were worn by the work they did. Their work was their life, and their brands were the names they were known by: Miller, Weaver, Skinner, Farmer, Brewer, Fisher, Shoemaker, Smith.
For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.
These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. “Markets were conversations” doesn’t mean “markets were noisy.” It means markets were places where people met to see and talk about each other’s work.
Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.
(The ClueTrain Manifesto, 10th Anniversary Edition, p. 149).
Weinberger reminds us that conversation on the Net is messy, running the full gamut of the engagement spectrum—that is, human experience. Conversation on the Net has the potential to harness not just the best in business, but also the best in the human spirit. At it’s worst, well…you get the picture. Weinberger’s implied call to action: Participate in the conversation, but participate carefully, transparently, passionately, in good humor—and always with a clear understanding of what’s at stake.