These Website Content Predictions Are From 2001 – Did They Come True?

This article recently crossed my desk (thanks Dave!). Since I’m fairly sensitive to user behaviour and user experience issues, it drew me right in. The article was a summarized version of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, from 2001. At the time of writing, that’s 18 years ago.

The publication on Internet Marketing contained 95 theses related to the rapid evolution of the internet and how user behaviour and communication styles were dramatically shifting year to year and month to month. It predicted a paradigm shift in how internet companies should communicate with their online community. It also made some bold statements on corporate structure, workplace culture and customer service.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

What do you think? Do these ideas listed below ring true today? Is this how you behave or expect to be spoken to on the internet? I think so and I’ve cherry-picked a bunch of my favorite points to share with you. I’ve also selected a few of my favorite points to comment on. Dig in!

Your Robot Voice is impersonal

2001 Predictions for Internet Marketing

  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
    • BINGO. The days of websites talking ‘at’ you are gone. Visitors want to be spoken to like real people, without buzzwords and jargon; conversational.
  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  • Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  • Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
    • This is a great point, since we need to communicate differently depending on the channel (social media, television, audio streaming). Some allow real time feedback and real conversation, while others are simply pitches where you need to be ultra clear how and where the community can get more information. Communicating value is also very tricky where visuals or direct focus are challenged, such as radio, podcast or some other audio streaming channel.
  • Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  • Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
    • Yes. This is a tough concept for a lot of companies to swallow. However, this trickles down to every corner of the organization and fosters a very positive work culture. Robots are bland and humourless, humans are dynamic and fun. The idea that this lessens a company’s professionalism is a complete myth! The only caveat is that the ‘humour’ in your marketing needs to be in good taste. Here’s a great article on that subject.
  • Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.
    • This should be a no brainer. How long do you stick around in a conversation with someone who boasts and brags about themselves?
  • Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
  • Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
  • Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  • We, (the frontline staff) are also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
    • “Your business is important to us”.
  • The inflated, self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?
  • If you want us (the networked market) to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
  • You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later; maybe.
  • When we’re not busy being your “target market,” many of us are your people. We’d rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing’s job.
    • This is a very good point. The days of departmental silos like sales vs marketing are dead. Every single staff member is a ‘sales associate’, meaning they are all brand advocates who, if the work culture is supportive and positive, will be some of your best advertisers.
  • We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
  • We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.
    • This is a wonderful point to conclude with, as social media has completely changed the brand landscape. Not by the ability for brands to advertise to these markets, but by the brand conversations that millions of social media users have on a daily basis, completely outside of the company structure; and in real-time. Do not ignore them. Respond kindly and quickly, no matter what the sentiment. Everyone is watching.

So, do these statements ring true today?

As you could probably tell by my comments above, the answer is a resounding – YES!

Research study after research study consistently supports the idea of the ‘conversational tone’. To feel spoken to in a human, personal and non-robotic way. Avoiding obvious marketing BS and buzzwords will open a window to trust, reputation and ultimately, customer retention. When I’m in a room with a client and we’re discussing a website content strategy, the conversation always comes around to ‘human and personal’. Write content as if you are sitting across from your perfect customer(s).

Moreover, people on the web prefer to read content written in plain, understandable language. Again, we point out the need to strip out boastful content, buzzwords and jargon which only help to alienate your readership. Even experts prefer to read common language as is explained in this article by the Nielsen/Norman Group.

Here are a couple of pertinent notes from that article:

  • It communicates information succinctly and efficiently so that readers understand the message quickly, without having to decipher complicated sentences or vague jargon.
  • It is welcome by readers; in fact, studies show that it makes the writer look smarter. (If people understand more of what you’re saying, they will likely feel that you make sense.)

It’s hard to know for certain what exactly ‘plain’ language is, as we can all be super critical of our own writing. So how do you test your content? Ask a friend or family member to take a spin through the article and share their feedback. Someone outside of the office or department is ideal, as they’ll be able to give you some really great feedback on accessibility.

‘Your business is important to us’

Remember that phrase? It used to be a staple of automated reception systems the world over and we still hear it from time to time. This completely ironic statement repeated as we are mercilessly held in a never-ending hold pattern. Our business was certainly ‘NOT’ important.

Agree? Disagree?

Did these all make sense to you? Did you check out the original article and see the rest of the ‘theses’? The references to ‘we’ and the ‘networked market’ definitely showed the content’s age. Let us know what you thought! We would also be happy to take a spin through your website and perhaps suggest ways that you might communicate your brand in a slightly more human and fun way.

Let’s Talk About Building Great Website Content!