CLUELESS IN CYBERSPACE
by Lindsey Vereen
George Lucas hasn’t spent a penny advertising
The Phantom Menace
and yet somehow we all know about it. His PR machine has been going full bore, as you can tell by the prodigious amount of editorial
coverage he has received. Publicity is of course necessary to the success of most any enterprise. You’re probably familiar with the concept of “Field of Dreams” marketing: the idea that if you build it, they will come. They won’t, of course. Many an engineer with a great idea has missed the jackpot for failing to attract the attention of the market.
The dark side of the publicity machine is what may be described as a lack of full disclosure. While PR reps assure the press that their
excitement over their new product is unbounded, it does not extend to opening the company kimono. If they had their way, they would control everything that appeared in the media about their company. Yet the people they want to influence are probably getting better information via USENET newsgroups and CompuServe and have been for years. No matter how tight a rein a company keeps on its information, the truth about its products will get out. While this has been the case for nearly a generation in engineering
circles, it is now becoming a widespread phenomenon. More and more people are seeking — and finding on the Internet — the reality behind the product brochures. The Internet offers a human voice that is believable, if not entirely reliable.
Most of you have probably spent some time reading newsgroups and perhaps contributing to them. You know that you find information there that will never see the light of day in the media. And you also know that this information is not always credible. The difficulty
is sorting through all the noise to ferret out what’s accurate and useful, a challenge that is hampered by the relative anonymity the Internet affords. Is a product reviewer an expert or merely a glib 12-year-old overachiever with an AOL account?
Obviously you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. We must maintain the same critical eye toward the new information sources that we do toward traditional sources. But the Internet uniquely enables peer-to-peer communication that has never
existed before, which we ignore only at our peril. The dichotomy between what you learn on the Internet and what a company is willing to disclose to you makes it clear that relationships between vendors and customers must change. This position is articulated at
www.cluetrain.com/book/, a site that promotes the idea that companies that think they can control the flow of information are without a clue. It suggests that companies must foster a sense
of community with their markets by speaking to them in a human voice, i.e., not through its PR channel.
This is not to say that a place for a PR channel doesn’t exist. George Lucas can use his PR force to get word of his movie to the far corners of the world, but is the movie any good? For that information, you’ll have to check the Internet.