Fifteen years ago, the provocative musings of Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger set the stage for a grand era of social media marketing with the publication of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and their vigorous declaration of “the end of business as usual.”
For a while, it really felt like brands were beginning to embrace online communities as a way to directly connect with people as human beings. But over the years, that idealistic vision of genuine two-way exchange eroded. Brands got lazy by posting irrelevant content and social networks needed to make money.
Let’s call it what it is: Social media marketing is now advertising. It’s largely a media planning and buying exercise — emphasizing viewed impressions. Brands must pay if they really want their message to be seen. It’s the opposite of connecting or listening — it’s once again broadcasting.
Twitter’s Dick Costello recently said that ads will “make up about one in 20 tweets.” It’s also no secret that Facebook’s organic reach is on life support, at best. And when Snapchat launched Discover, it was quick to point out that “This is not social media.”
The idealistic end to business as usual, as “The Cluetrain Manifesto” envisioned, never happened. We didn’t reach the finish line. We didn’t even come close. After a promising start — a glimmer of hope — we’re back to business as usual. Sure, there have been powerful advances in ad tech. Media is more automated, targeted, instant, shareable and optimized than ever before. But is there anything really social about it? Not below its superficial layer.
First, a big thanks to Mike and @AdAge for such a gracious hat tip toward @Cluetrain. It’s amazing and gratifying to see the old meme still going strong, sixteen years after the original manifesto went up on the Web. (And it’s still there, pretty much unchanged — since 24 March 1999.) If it weren’t for marketing and advertising’s embrace of #Cluetrain, it might have been forgotten by now. So a hat tip to those disciplines as well.
An irony is that Cluetrain wasn’t meant for marketing or advertising. It was meant for everybody, including marketing, advertising and the rest of business. (That’s why @DWeinberger and I recently appended #NewClues to the original.) Another irony is that Cluetrain gets some degree of credit for helping social media come along. Even if that were true, it wasn’t what we intended. What we were looking for was more independence and agency on the personal side — and for business to adapt.
When that didn’t happen fast enough to satisfy me, I started ProjectVRM in 2006, to help the future along. We are now many people and many development projects strong. (VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management: the customer-side counterpart of Customer Relationship Management — a $20+ billion business on the sellers’ side.)
Business is starting to notice. To see how well, check out the @Capgemini videos I unpack here. Also see how some companies (e.g. @Mozilla) are hiring VRM folks to help customers and companies shake hands in more respectful and effective ways online.
Monday, at VRM Day (openings still available), Customer Commons (ProjectVRM’s nonprofit spinoff) will be vetting a VRM maturity framework that will help businesses and their advisors (e.g. @Gartner, @Forrester, @idc, @KuppingerCole and @Ctrl-Shift) tune in to the APIs (and other forms of signaling) of customers expressing their intentions through tools and services from VRM developers. (BTW, big thanks to KuppingerCole and Ctrl-Shift for their early and continuing support for VRM and allied work toward customer empowerment.)
The main purpose of VRM Day is prep toward discussions and coding that will follow over the next three days at the XXth Internet Identity Workshop, better known as IIW, organized by @Windley, @IdentityWoman and myself. IIW is an unconference: no panels, no keynotes, no show floor. It’s all breakouts, demos and productive conversation and hackery, with topics chosen by participants. There are tickets left for IIW too. Click here. Both VRM Day and IIW are at the amazing and wonderful Computer History Museum in downtown Silicon Valley.
Mike closes his piece by offering five smart things marketers can do to “make the most of this era of #NotReally social media marketing.” All good advice.
Here’s one more that leverages the competencies of agencies like Mike’s own (@HillHolliday): Double down on old-fashioned Madison Avenue-type brand advertising. It’s the kind of advertising that carries the strongest brand signal. It’s also the most creative, and the least corrupted by tracking and other jive that creeps people out. (That stuff doesn’t come from Madison Avenue, by the way. Its direct ancestor is direct marketing, better known as junk mail. I explain the difference here.) For more on why that’s good, dig what Don Marti has been saying.
(BTW & FWIW, I was also with an ad agency business, as a founder and partner in Hodskins Simone & Searls, which did kick-ass work from 1978 to 1998. More about that here.)
Bottom line: business as usual will end. Just not on any schedule.