I am exploring how the internet is impacting corporate communication, with a specific focus on weblogs and market backtalk. In January I was introduced to The Cluetrain Manifesto which was published in 1999. The manifesto is basically a wake up call to Corporate America which screams "Hey. Listen up. People have a new way of talking to each other. There is a new word of mouth vehicle and it's called the internet. People are having conversations all over the world. They are talking about your business. Are you going to join in on the conversation or are you going to turn your back on it?"
With the recent surge in weblogs and individual publication, this is true now more than it ever was. What percentages of companies are changing their communications paradigm to address the conversation? Is management willing to change its mindset? How transparent will a company allow itself to become? In a time where secrets can no longer be locked down, how will corporations respond? I attended a Search Engine Strategies seminar on March 1st, 2005 where this was the primary topic of conversation because the impact of conversations are having visible and noticeable effects in how corporations are perceived. Word-of-mouth advertising still has a powerful effect, and the internet lays out the foundation for a global word of mouth network. Can this be reasonably be dismissed?
The basic tenets of change were laid out in the Cluetrain Manifesto five years ago. Corporations need to listen to their markets. They need to be more transparent. They need to speak in a human voice. Because the market now has a voice. People are watching and listening and communication on a scale that was unimaginable twenty, ten, or even five years ago. If youre hiding something or are not forthcoming as a corporate entity, you will eventually be outed by your market. The last five years have given the ideas some time to gestate and sink in for those that are listening. Let's face it, this is where things are going; should be going. Look at the current effects of the blogoshere on mainstream media.
In my research, I am going to set up a survey and attempt to measure how business is reacting to the phenomena of internet conversation. And from the data that I
gather, and the external research that I complete, try to forecast whether or not we will be seeing a major shift in the way corporations are going to be dealing with their markets or if they are still trying to dismiss them and go on with "business as usual."
I also plan to research the level of internet noise or backtalk. Two years ago, corporations dominated internet search results, both organically in the natural search results and in the pay per click advertising and sponsored search results that line the perimeters of every search engines results page. Now, because of technological advances in content management systems and internet publishing, many of the barriers to individual publishing have been swept away. There is no longer a need to be a techie geek in order to start a website. Just take two minutes and sign up for an account on blogger.com or Typepad.com. Individual web publishing has been on the rise since the dot.com crash in 2001. Too many internet geeks cum pundits had nothing better to do. But the arena has been changing rapidly, as soccer moms, and law students, and artists, and politicos, and ranters have gotten online and began to exercise their cyber-voices. Now when you go to a search engine, the results are a mix of personal and corporate web pages. I want to get a sampling of what the ratio is by typing in a set of keywords, business related, topical, political, etc, in a number of search engines and try to track what the corporate to individual web page ratio is, thereby getting a snapshot of the current level of noise. I am going to track the same keyword list on the same search engines for a period of six to eight weeks to measure the changing levels of backtalk. I will be limiting my sample to the top twenty search results for any given keyword.
With the survey, and the sample, I hope to give a picture of current company attitudes, forecast the future impact of the individual publisher, and postulate a theory on the feasibility of an upcoming shift in the corporate communication paradigm.
The information superhighway now travels in TWO DIRECTIONS. Where those directions lead still remain to be seen.