You have arrived at the web home of Noah Brier. This is mostly an archive of over a decade of blogging and other writing. You can read more about me or get in touch. If you want more recent writing of mine, most of that is at my BrXnd marketing x AI newsletter and Why Is This Interesting?, a daily email for the intellectually omnivorous.

November, 2004

How to Embrace the Internet

I'm nearing the end of Joe Trippi's fantastic book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, The Internet, and The Overthrow of Everything. (For those who don't know Joe Trippi he was the campaign manager for Howard Dean and is responsible for helping the campaign to embrace the internet and help change how politics in America work.) In chapter 11 Trippi provides seven "basic principles that companies can choose to embrace before it's too late." I couldn't agree more with all of what Trippi has to say and unknowingly I recently suggested many (or maybe all) of them to a company I'm working with. I'm not sure if it's completely legal for me to just copy all seven rules, but in honor of Trippi's anti-establishment stance I've typed them all up for you to read (sans italics). Go buy his book, it helps to restore faith in Democracy. The internet is the perfect medium to help us reclaim the government that has been stolen from us by large corporations with lobbying interests. So without any further ado, here are "The Seven Inviolable, Irrefutable, Ingenious Things Your Business or Institution or Candidate Can Do in the Age of the Internet That Might Keep You from Getting Your Ass Kicked But Then Again Might Not":
1. Be first. There is very little about the internet that is proprietary. I could start an online bookstore tomorrow and do everything Amazon does. And you know what? Amazon would still beat me like a dirty rug. It's about more than branding. The first car company to let people pick the colors, the first beer to let people design the label, the first candidate to embrace people on the Net – the first everything has a head start building a community. Go now. (Rule 1a: If you're not going to be the first mover, you'd better be a hell of a lot better.)

2. Keep it moving. Do not be static. The internet is a liquid medium. It's amazing how many companies spend $100 million on TV advertising while their $64,000-a-year "web division" consists of the CEO's twenty-two-year-old Nintendo geek nephew updating the web site with a new press release once a month. Don't let your website be wallpaper. Your internet presence should be an organic, flowing, daily dialogue with your customers, back and forth. If you aren't regularly e-mailing customers, if you aren't responding to their e-mails, if you don't have a blog, if you're not using your web site to engage the people around you . . . then you are wasting your time on the Net.

3. Use an authentic voice. The blogging expert Dave Winer calls it the essential element of web writing: "the unedited voice of a person." We're not morons. When we get an e-mail from the president of the company, we know it wasn't really written by him. People would rather get a real e-mail from a real guy in the real mailroom than a phony one from the CEO (who we know is vacationing on his yacht anyway). Sacrifice some of the slickness of your web site for the real, sometimes messy quality of the best blogs. And no more autoresponses. Have real people write real stuff.

4. Tell the truth. The Internet has an inherent transparency. A strong Internet presence is a way to open the doors of the company. But if you invite people in, you'd better be prepared to have them look in the medicine cabinet. So don't hide anything. Tell them what you want. Don't manipulate. Put what you want up high. Put it on the first page of your web site, at the top of the e-mails.

5. Build a community. Create a commons, a town square, a place where people can come together to talk about their Ford Mustangs, or their Kodak cameras. If you are running the Kodak web site and you don't have an online photo gallery for the people who buy your digital cameras, or an online photo contest . . . then you should give up now. Because someone else is going to do it. Get people involved! This is not top-down, one-to-many anymore. The Internet is side-to-side, up-and-down, many-to-many. Use it that way. It's the dialogue, stupid.

6. Cede control. Once you invite the people in, they're going to want to do more. I know this violates everything they taught you in school, but you have to let go of the old command-and-control style of business. Let the edges blur between customer and company. And remember: We are smarter than you are. If you let us choose the color of Mustang, you'd better be prepared to produce some squash-colored cars.

7. Believe again. The days of condescension toward customers and citizens are over. Have some faith in the American people again. Democracy is based on the principle that if we give the citizens control over their common future, they will choose the best path. The same is true of consumers.

November 22, 2004
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.