Groundswell Book Review: Part I

This is a first for me, the book review in two parts.  I found so much useful information in the book Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff that I thought it would be best to break the review in two.  Now I know why this book is a BusinessWeek bestseller and when I mentioned that I was going to read Groundswell my community on Twitter told me how much I would enjoy the book.  Thank you Twitter friends, you were right!  Tapping into the Groundswell is a great experience and I want to share my thoughts with you.

As I read through the chapters I found myself saying, “I can’t believe I haven’t read this book.”  Here’s my first bit of advice to you.  If you haven’t already, go and pick up this book or if it’s available on Kindle, then you should download a copy.  It’s critical that our brands understand how to traverse the social landscape, and that starts with our own understanding of how to advise them. First and foremost, before I go on, for those who don’t know the concept of the Groundswell, it is (as defined by the authors):  A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” Groundswell is a book that provides a roadmap and it does this in a number of ways.  I like a book that offers readers more than one way to grasp a concept and learn a new approach.  Li and Bernoff have successfully managed to instruct through helpful higher-level concepts, great case study examples and useful graphics and diagrams that support their work.

Let’s take a look at the first part of the book, which captures chapters 1 through 7.  I really had the feeling that the authors were very careful to introduce ideas and concepts and help the reader to learn each one before moving to the next chapter.  Although there are many, the most powerful concepts and the critical points that I want to stress to you in the first half of the book are the following:

  • The Social Technographics Profile:  I find this tool tremendously important and think that it helps to identify the behavior of your target public.  Li and Bernoff introduce Forrester’s profile tool, which enables you to enter the demographics of your audience (age, country, gender), so that you are able to gauge their social participation (See screenshot below.)

The tool compares your audience’s participation as creators, conversationalists, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives, as compared to the average US consumer.  The results of using a simple tool will guide you with your social media strategy.  It’s critical that your target public’s participation matches the efforts that you want to put in place.  For example rushing to build ratings, reviews and social networks when your target public is mostly adult spectators will not produce best results.  Chapter 3 of the book talks in great detail about the Social Technographics Profile.

Below is Forresters Technographics Ladder with an explanation of how the average US consumer participates in social networks and a breakdown of the activities on each rung of the ladder.

click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

  • Strategies for Tapping the Groundswell (Chapter 4) is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  The authors introduce an acronym for their four- step planning process – POST.  POST stands for:
  • People – What is your target public ready for?  Here’s where they tie in the Social Technographics Profile.  By taking a good look at the people first you can assess the level of engagement based on the type of participation in social networks that is familiar to them.
  • Objectives – Here’s the one that I find is missing quite often.  The authors ask outright, “What are your goals?” They want to know if you are more interested in talking to groups of people, energizing or supporting them, and that means both external as well as internal employee groups.
  • Strategies – How do you want your relationships with your customers to change, and what exactly do you want them to do?  Carry messages? Become more engaged?  If you don’t map out your objectives, you cannot measure the change in activity once the strategy begins. The authors offer five helpful types of objectives including: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing.
  • Technology – After you determine the people, objectives and strategy, it’s a lot easier to identify the technology whether it is a blog, wiki, social network, etc.  Technology is extremely important to your strategy, and the authors discuss poor technology implementation (we see this happen all of the time with lightly trafficked communities).
  • Listening to the Groundswell (Chapter 5) can never be stressed enough and that you must have a listening plan.  I’m a huge proponent of listening.  Li and Bernoff breakdown listening into two listening strategies. The first is to set up your own private listening community, which is more costly, but definitely worth the investment.  The second listening strategy is a more frequently used strategy and that is to begin brand monitoring through “blogs, discussion forums, YouTube and everything else…”

They use case studies to illustrate the listening strategies in Chapter 5 and include stories from National Comprehensive Cancer Network to USA Mini.  I also think it’s excellent the authors address how listening will change your organization. They go as far as saying that once you start to listen “your company will never be the same” and I agree with them.  In the past market research departments have been set to the side as a resource used by other areas of the company. Listening/research are now a focal point of the organization, which means that the marketing, PR and communications department take on a critical role with the listening function in social media communications.  Of course, all of the information obtained from any listening exercise must go beyond marketing and PR to other departments in the organization.  Social media is a shared responsibility.

I’ll let you absorb all of this information and then you can look forward to Part II of my review.  Let me know what you think about Groundswell and if you’ve read the book if it has helped you in your efforts to tap into the Groundswell.  Part II!