We had dinner with some great new friends last evening. A brilliant couple in their mid-forties, both with PhDs – teaching at the University level. In the course of the conversation, we talked about the social interconnection power of the net and I asked if they’d read Cluetrain. I confess I was surprised when they responded that they had not. Some times it’s a little too easy to believe that smart, connected people are on the same page as you. (Even when you got to the page a little later than one might have expected.)
One of the Cluetrain authors, the irrepressible Doc Searles comments on Richard Edelman’s Me2 Revolution article that will be published as an part of Edelman Trust Barometer brochure insert in the Feb 13th PRWeek.
Richard is channeling reality. He’s listening to what Chris Locke called networked markets and he’s calling for PR to participate in what David Weinberger began began calling the hyperlinked organization long before David loaded that meme onto the Cluetrain. Richard is also respecting facts about markets and customers that Jerry Michalski was talking and writing about, long before Jerry said a consumer was “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash” (also quoted in Cluetrain). He’s seeing what Peter Drucker called “The New Pluralism“, granting full respect to what Drucker first called “knowledge workers”, and heeding Drucker’s advice to rely on the expertise of employees. He’s respecting what Dave Winer says about users becoming manufacturers while manufacturers become users. Also what Dave said here about how It’s easier to *be* a user and make products for other users. That product can be anything, including information about what a company and its products do: the stuff we call PR.
Edelman sees the profound change that has taken place in a world that no longer trusts the old gatekeepers. He sites the scandals like our own Gomery Commission, the fall of the Governor of the Bank of Italy and the inept leadership in the wake of Katrina as examples of the decline of public trust in traditional institutional voices. That trust is instead being placed in a “person like yourself or your peer.” (Moving from 22% of surveyed respondents in 2003 to 68% in 2006.)
Beyond the lack of confidence in the traditional sources of information lies a more fundamental change, a yearning to move beyond the simple act of consumption of information to social networking. The rise of MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia is premised on sharing of content with a group of likeminded individuals. It is the wisdom of the crowd, with constant updating of content based on personal experience. Media companies like the BBC have already harnessed this powerful force – most notably during the horrific London bombings of July 7,2005 – to bring stories from citizen journalists on the scene to its BBC.com.
There is sharing of content because now we can do it easily, quickly, and colorfully.The Pew Center for Media noted that 60% of US teens have created and shared content on the Internet.
In June of last year, Business Week called it the Power of Us.
The nearly 1 billion people online worldwide — along with their shared knowledge, social contacts, online reputations, computing power, and more — are rapidly becoming a collective force of unprecedented power. For the first time in human history, mass cooperation across time and space is suddenly economical. “There’s a fundamental shift in power happening,” says Pierre M. Omidyar, founder and chairman of the online marketplace eBay Inc. (EBAY ) “Everywhere, people are getting together and, using the Internet, disrupting whatever activities they’re involved in.”
Behold the power of us. It’s the force behind the collective clamor of Weblogs that felled CBS (VIA ) anchorman Dan Rather and rocked the media establishment. Global crowds of open-source Linux programmers are giving even mighty Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) fits.
Edelman views this profound change through a corporate lens:
How can companies embrace this future of empowered stakeholders? Speak from the inside out, telling your employees and customers what is happening so they can spread the word for you. Be transparent, revealing what you know when you know it while committing to updating as you learn more. Be willing to yield control of the message in favor of a rich dialogue, in which you learn by listening. Recognize the importance of repetition of the story in multiple venues, because nobody believes something he or she hears or sees for the first time. Embrace new technologies, from employee blogs to podcasts, because audiences are becoming ever more segmented. Co-create a brand by taking on an issue that makes sense for your business, such as GE’s Ecomagination campaign where green is truly green.
In the wonderfully interconnected world of the net, Doc links to the Terry Heaton post that my Friday post triggered:
…the Me2 revolution is about new forms of production. It’s also one more way employees enjoy a breed of responsibility — speaking for the company — from which in the past they were excluded.
Thus the scope of “consumer” continues to shrink. Soon it will refer only to the population this IBM study calls “massive passives”. As we see in this Terry Heaton post, IBM, like Edelman, not only gets it, but gives it too.
Next step for both companies is to recognize that “consumer” is meaningful only as a label for the massive passive population, and giving full credit as producers to all participating employees, customers and individual sources of “content”, which now run in the many millions.
As Edelman says at the end of his article:
In 1850, author Ralph Waldo Emerson commented on the rising importance of newspapers to the young American republic. He said, “Look at the morning trains (with their commuters)…into every car the newsboy unfolds his magic sheets, two pence a head his brand of knowledge costs.”
We are now at the point of reinventing the experience of communications, the essence of the Me2 Revolution.
The Newspapers, their MSM cousins, the political spins doctors, their corporate cousins and the gatekeepers of corporations, educational and non-profit organizations wither as the Cluetrain continues to announce the Power of Us.