11 years ago, the Cluetrain Manifesto (the end of business as usual) was published. The only really surprising thing about it (looking back) is that the predictions didn’t happen faster. Well, I guess it is surprising in another dimension. The challenges to the modern business corporation were articulated, but it is clear now these same challenges apply to all large hierarchical organizations including governments, political parties, news organizations, etc. This article is focused on:
Thesis #6: The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
Thesis #7: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
Here are four examples of how people are connecting to each other across the boundaries of time, space & institutional hierarchy using the Internet to subvert authority and established channels of communication..
WikiLeaks: Think what you will of Julian Assange – but he has certainly used the power of the web to attack powerful institutions. His 2006 essay posits that organizations (like governments) can only gather and hold power IF they are able to keep secrets. As soon as they can’t keep secrets they will be crippled and doomed. He has recently acted on this hypothesis in a direct attack on the US Government. The publication of these materials (by the NYT, Guardian, LeMonde, Der Speigel and El Pais) certainly made a bigger impact, but he could have acted without any collaboration with mass media and achieved roughly the same result.
Obama: Barak Obama was a long shot underdog early in the 2008 Presidential campaign. His campaign did many, many things very well but in one particular area, they absolutely trounced the competition. Obama used the Internet to organize, motivate and dramatically expand his supporters and fundraising. He did this better that any presidential campaign ever has – and it paid off.
Tea Party: Of course Obama and the Democrats don’t have a monopoly on using the Internet to subvert the established order. In the 2010 mid-term elections, the Tea Party used the power of the web to connect a widely distributed group of people who shared distrust of the established political parties – especially Republicans.
Ford: Ford Motor Company won AdAge 2010 Marketer of the Year accolades for among other reasons being the most aggressive car company on the planet when it comes to using social networks to sell cars. Ford didn’t fight about whether marketing or public relations owned this channel – instead they collapsed the two into a single communications function. For two examples of how Ford is reducing their media spending dramatically while reaching ever more people – see below:
These four examples demonstrate how powerful a force the Internet has become in society – not just for corporations, but also for all large institutions. We live in an age of disintermediation where each of us can get our information from any source we like and no longer have to accept anyone or anything as the “expert” or the final authority. There will be much more painful change ahead (mostly for large organizations) as people band together in their own interests. The smartest of those large organizations will understand the implications of these trends and figure out how to get on the side of the people.