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!
Thesis #25: Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
The issue with companies coming down from their Ivory Towers, as we’ve discussed repeatedly, is that companies aren’t particularly good at talking to people.
Worse, is that the real people inside the company that are good at talking and building relationships aren’t empowered by the company to do so.
At the Twestival in Philadelphia this past week, I met Phil Baumann and Carrie Estok. We had a really awesome discussion about Carrie’s work with Yelp (one of my favorite companies) as a community advocate, and the real value that she’s able to provide to the Philadlephia community, as well as the businesses being reviewed on Yelp.
If you’re not familiar with Yelp, it’s a review site. But unlike Amazon, it reviews businesses. And more importantly, it’s local. As we’ve discussed before, people don’t trust marketing nearly as much as they trust their peers, so the recommendations shared on Yelp are authentic and peer-to-peer. They can be good, they can be bad. They’re all honest, from the perspective of the author. And Yelp continues to find ways to capture the customer-to-customer conversations and expose them for the benefit of other customers, and ultimately, for the businesses being talked about as well.
I think part of why I like Yelp so much because of how “Cluetrain-y” their model is.
There’s two things I took away from my conversation with Phil and Carrie related to this thesis:
First, Yelp as a company embraced a mechanism for coming down from their Ivory Tower: hiring and empowering community advocates. This type of job has been recognized as extremely important for any community oriented business, and increasingly, any business at all.
While Carrie and I didn’t discuss this explicitly, I’m fairly certain that she’s able to do her job best because Yelp empowers her (having carefully selected her) to be their representative, and to represent the community she’s a part of.
That’s the difference. It’s impossible for “Yelp”, the business, to be a part of every community that they service. But they knew the importance of building quality relationships with their users and the businesses that their users review, so they needed representation. Furthermore, that representation would be most effective if it came from within the community. There was no Ivory Tower for that person to have to come down from. That person, in this case Carrie, is able to continue being a member of the Philadelphia community and have the tools and facility that Yelp provides at her disposal. Yelp trusts her to be an ambassador for their communication. If they didn’t, there would be no point to having her on staff.
The second takeaway from our conversation will address the next thesis, Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.