Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies

My selection of groundswell was based on three factors: 1) Senior Management in my company has been struggling with understanding the implications of social media, 2) I’d read a review of the book in an HBR magazine, and 3) I had no knowledge of social media and was curious. For all of the time I spend on computers, I had not spent anytime getting to know the Web 2.0; I’d heard about FaceBook, seen rss symbols and the like but never interacted. So to say this book is the New Influencers on steroids is probably not that much of an exaggeration. Corporations, like people, don’t always get it. Corporations do not naturally gravitate to places where they are not in control. The premise of groundswell is to help corporations I come to grips with “a social trend in which people use technologies to get things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” The speed and breadth of change was accelerating and becoming … well, a groundswell. The groundswell was the result of a collision of three forces: people (i.e. always dependent on each other), increased use of technology (i.e. 73% of people in the US are online), and software that was both more interactive and ‘people aware’. What makes this type of change different is the powerful software that is in the hands of people who are frequently connected and the new Internet economics (traffic equals money). Groundswell is about the power and influence Web 2.0 has on the fabric of our society today. A key point of the book is whether a company chooses to participate or not, the groundswell may involve that company. The groundswell is bigger than an individual company. The matter at hand is how to companies engage in the rising groundswell - either they succumb to its power or ride the swell. This is a book to help a company understand the changes and make conscious decisions to engage in the revolution or not.

The approach in groundswell applies to all levels of business (large or small). As is often the case with innovation, small business tend to embrace change more readily (more risk tolerant) while large businesses try to control the change. This book provides a methodology for understanding, identifying fits, and targeting the use of the new social media. This book can be the reference primer for a company trying to match their product or culture to various aspects of the new social media in use on the web (e.g. is a blog the right means of talking with stakeholders?).

This is a business book, targeted to senior executives and implementation management in marketing, finance and sales in corporations. Because Forrester is a research and consulting company, the format and approach of the book is to describe the new technology space, introduce tools and processes that a corporation could use in implementing strategies in this new media space.

Given we have The New Influencers as a basis for framing the social media space that describe the new media and how to engage on various levels. The focus of this report is on two aspects that are unique to corporations. The first is to define why corporations are reluctant to participate and to describe one of the new tools, Techographics®.

§ The first aspect – is about tapping into the groundswell. Li and Bernoff are adamant – do not start with a random social strategy, the outcomes can be worse than you imagine. The authors describe a four-step process (called POST) for planning to build a strategy. POST stands for people, objectives strategies, and technology; Notice that technology is only 1 of 4 attributes of the method. Li and Bernoff repeatedly point out that the new social media is about people interactions facilitated by technology not the other way around.
§ The second aspect – Li and Bernoff articulate a call to action for corporations. Their basic premise is the groundswell can threaten corporations and their brands as customers draw strength and information from each other. Ignoring the phenomena or having a good defense is no longer enough. The Social Technographic Profile refers to Forrester’s methodology for surveying consumers that focus’s on their technology behaviors. At the core of the profile is a common way to group people based on groundswell activities and the way they in which they participate. Based on extensive surveys, Forrester has created and maintains baselines of behaviors they can slice into any demographic.

In conclusion, this book is directed to managers and professionals charged with managing a brand or marketing a product or service for a corporation. It is intended to prepare and guide those executives and professional to enter, handle, and even thrive in the rapidly evolving world of social media. It provides series of tools and/or experts in the space that can help a company solve the question, “How do we get into the new social media channels?” This is a real hands-on ‘how to’ book.

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