The Cluetrain Manifesto for Councils

The Cluetrain Manifesto knocked me sideways when I read it in the late 1990s.

It still knocks me sideways now.

I have spent some time thinking about how it might shape up if we were to apply it to conversations between councils and communities rather than between ‘corporations’ and ‘markets’.  In most cases it holds up pretty well.

The only place it doesn’t hold up quite so well is that in the private sector most companies that don’t get web 2.0 are likely to go to the wall.  There is no such survival imperative for councils.   There are no competitors waiting in the wings to take our council tax away.  But then again…perhaps there are… Perhaps this cuts to the heart of council as smart commissioner and clever facilitator of ‘community services’.

If you have not read the Cluetrain Manifesto, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Just try replacing ‘corporation/company’ with ‘council’ and ‘market’ with ‘community’.  Customers may also become residents…

Here are a few highlights from my experiment:

  • Communities are conversations.
  • Communities consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  • Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  • Communities are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked community changes people fundamentally.
  • People in networked communities have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from agencies.
  • There are no secrets. The networked community knows more than councils do about their own products and services. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  • What’s happening to communities is also happening among employees.
  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, councils sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  • In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements, visions and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
  • Already, councils that speak in the language of ‘the pitch’ are no longer speaking to anyone.

Some of these may be trivial.  Others perhaps profound.  If peers really do provide a better job than agencies in professionals in delivering the support that we need the implications could be massive.


  1. How would this actually work in practise though?

    • Clearly this will take some thinking about. Some innovation and creativity. But I think it is about shifting from authority to facilitator as much as possible…

      Going to convene some opportunities to talk about it though….

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