Book Review: Groundswell


Winning in a world transformed by social technologies
Charlene Li and John Bernoff
Harvard Business Press, 2008. 286 pp.

You and I and half of American adults are using more online tools to connect, to find information, get support, compare products, rate movies, buy from each other, or post blog entries. But most companies and institutions still don’t understand this trend, and their customers are slowly dribbling away.

Charlene Li and John Bernoff call this evolving online activity the groundswell. In this very readable book Li and Bernoff draw from extensive research to describe what the groundswell is and to offer case studies showing how organizations have readjusted their thinking to take advantage of it.

Although the groundswell trend includes social networks and related technologies, the authors say, equally important is the change in consumer behavior. People are getting more things they need from each other, and less from traditional institutions and corporations.

Listening (and becoming involved in) the groundswell should help your organization find out what your brand stands for; understand how buzz is shifting; save research money; increase research responsiveness; find the sources of influence in your market; manage PR crises; and generate new product and marketing ideas.

Li and Bernoff caution that there is no single ‘right way’ to engage with the groundswell. Depending on the objectives of your company, you’ll choose among the following options: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, or embracing your audience.

Case studies examine how uses an innovation community to involve customers in the design of new products; how a French credit union made customers’ suggestions a part of how it does business; and how a Canadian grocery store uses customer ratings and review to improve its products.

An instrument that Li and Bernoff use in their work at Forrester Research is called the Social Technographics Profile. “Social” refers to the people-to-people activities in the groundswell. “Technographics” refers to Forrester Research’s way of surveying consumers—it’s similar to demographics and psychographics, but focuses on technology behaviors.

The authors define six kinds of online consumer behaviors. Learning which types best define your audience (or clients, or communities, or target groups) is the first step in any strategy you take to reach them. The Creators are those who publish a blog or article online, maintain a web page, or upload videos at least monthly. Critics post comments on blogs or forums, post ratings or reviews, or edit wikis. Collectors save URLs and tags on a social-bookmarking service, vote for sites on a service like Digg, or use RSS feed aggregators. Joiners maintain profiles on a social networking site like MySpace. Spectators consume what the rest produce. Inactives—nonparticipants—still remain.

Nearly one in five of online consumers in the US—18 percent—are Creators. This means that a significant chunk of six of your target audience, customers, community, etc., are blogging, uploading video, and maintaining Web sites, and quite possibly discussing your company. One in four are Critics, and nearly half are Spectators.

This groundswell is taking place not just on desktops and laptops. The groundswell is about to get embedded within every activity, including mobile devices.


One Response to Book Review: Groundswell

  1. […] who have the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control. This book picks up where Groundswell left off, by showing readers just how they can use these new technologies—Facebook, Twitter, […]

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