Purists vs. Corporatists

There is a long simmering debate going on about corporations and conversations. Josh Bernhoff re-caps it nicely in this post:

Purists, and Corporatists — why companies CAN participate

After re-reading it several times, I think that Josh and the Cluetrain Purists are essentially arguing about different things.

The Purists have a fairly simple position. Only people can participate in conversations. Corporations or brands cannot participate in conversations.

The Corporatists insist that companies can participate in social media.

Depends how you define social media. If you define it like Shel Israel:

“The essence of social media is that it is humans. Humans connect to humans and they form communities. They own their communities, brands don’t. The perspective of traditional marketing is to take a message and find delivery channels to inseminate into people’s foreheads. This is not social. Social is for a marketing executive to start a blog and ask people why they hate his marketing efforts–then listen–really listen to what people say the way Dell has done and a few others are trying to do.”

then corporations cannot participate.

PEOPLE representing corporations can participate. I think it is as simple as that.

Josh’s formulation suggests that corporations have various tactics available WRT social media. These are Listening, Talking, Energizing, Supporting and Embracing. I think all of these are viable, except for Talking.

Josh defines talking as “using conversations with customers to promote products or services”.

This is where it breaks down. To be successful in Shel’s definition of social media you have to make a positive contribution to the community over time.

Maybe if Josh’s definition for Talking was: “having someone (representing the corporation openly) participate in our key communities over time to build trust and add value to the communities” then we could close this very open loophole.

Is your goal to add value to the community (and also derive value for yourself – by having a greater understanding and building relationships) or to add value to the company? If you start with the first, you can achieve the second. But if you start with the second – forget it.

Tom O’B


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