This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Stephen SmithNote: This is a guest post from Stephen Smith, editor of Business Development in Context and a co-founder of the forum. You can follow him on Twitter at @hdbbstephen.

Thesis #18: Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

Changes and Opportunities

The internet has developed as an agent of change unparalleled in human history. The near-instant communication it provides to people all over the world is a more important change than even the Industrial Revolution. The internet is tearing down walls faster and faster every day:

  • Citizen Journalism is reporting news faster and more honestly than the legacy organizations
  • Consumer advocacy groups are creating online communities to discuss products and services
  • E-mail communications can transmit a single message to millions in moments
  • Amateur videographers are creating entertainment that reaches niche markets – or tens of thousands
  • People are connecting in like-minded groups to pursue social agendas, commercial concerns, and education.

Consider the new tools

Twitter and its “private” counterpart, Yammer, enable a stream of instant chat, or “Tweets”. These tweets are snippets of information – what you are doing right now. Or what you are thinking about. Or sharing a link to something that you think is interesting.

In the previous post we discussed how Twitter became the focal point for the Motrin-mom fiasco. Twitter also became the clearinghouse for information about the “miracle on the Hudson”, with the very first photo made available online at TwitPic.

[via cnet] The rapid-fire spread of a close-up photo of the US Airways plane that crashed in the Hudson River Thursday resulted in the service that hosted the picture going down.

This photo, of the US Airways jet that crashed into the Hudson River Thursday, brought so much traffic to TwitPic that the site, which allows users of several mobile phones to post pictures to Twitter, saw its servers get overloaded.

(Credit: Janis Krums) TwitPic, an application that allows users to take pictures from their mobile phones and append them to Twitter posts, went down after at least 7,000 people attempted to view the photo of the airplane taken from a commuter ferry by Sarasota, Fla., resident Janis Krums. According to Noah Everett, the founder of TwitPic, who still runs the service by himself, after the photo of the plane was re-tweeted by a large number of people and then picked up by several news sites, including Silicon Alley Insider, the resulting traffic was too much for the site’s servers.

Many of the most internet-savvy, and a large number of young people, are turning to social media for their news. As Mack Collier expressed just the other day:

mack collier tweet

Which of course led to a heated debate. A debate that is likely going on in the boardrooms of collapsing newspapers across the United States.

What do we do about these customers talking to each other?

The short answer is, “You need to get out there and talk to them, too.

The long answer has a lot more to do with how you engage these customers, in order to gain their trust. As Searls and Weinberger wrote in Cluetrain Chapter 4: Markets are Conversations:

For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.

For a long time – nearly two generations – the sellers were in control of the conversation. The idea of a “spokesperson” came into being, that is, a person who spoke what the sellers wanted them to say. TV, radio, newspapers – all designed to push messages out to the buyers. Broad-based messages that told you, in effect, that you needed this product or service so that you could be just like everyone else. This was the seller’s ultimate goal: to create a market of uniform buyers that could be manipulated, whose behavior could be predicted, and whose money could be harvested.

Then the internet showed up and threw a monkey wrench into the mechanism.

What Marketing Departments need to know

Here are some thoughts on understanding the changes in methods of conversation:

  1. Buyers want to talk to other buyers in order to share in the experience of your product or service. This is market research of the purest kind, the most valuable and the most unpredictable.
  2. Sellers must learn to join in these conversations without coming across as bullies, or smarmy salesmen. Partners, parties to the discussion.
  3. Sellers now have an opportunity to do something that has never been available before: to find and build a real relationship with their best buyers and advocates.

Don’t waste it.