Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BOOK REPORT: Groundswell

Forrester analyst Charlene Li, along with colleague Josh Bernoff, recently published their book Groundswell. I finished reading the book a few weeks ago and thought I would share my recap with you all (great book, btw!)

The book focuses on how companies can connect with consumers and drive sales and positive perception using social media tactics. Charlene and Josh define the groundswell as, “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” Using several case studies to back up their findings, Charlene and Josh claim that businesses that understand the groundswell will have the opportunity to live, and even thrive, in a web 2.0 environment.

In the book, Charlene and Josh introduce the “social technographics” profile – a tool that businesses can use to measure the online activity of their core consumer base to determine best tactics for participating in the groundswell. The tool divides consumers into six categories – creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives – and determines what percent of a company’s consumer base falls into each category. After a company determines how its consumer base interacts with the groundswell, it can begin to assess how to get involved. Companies can interact with the groundswell in 5 ways – listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing – and the social technographics profile of its consumers can help a company determine which way would best accomplish their objective.

Throughout the book, Charlene and Josh emphasize the importance of prioritizing consumers when engaging the groundswell. As in traditional marketing, “shouting” at consumers no longer works – conversations do. As such, the consumer (not the product) should be the priority and focus of a company’s involvement. Consumers in the groundswell value honesty and transparency, and they value the ability to have a voice. Before establishing groundswell tactics, companies need to learn to give up control of the brand message and let consumers drive the conversation.

Charlene and Josh offer the following recommendations, among others, to companies looking to build out a social media plan:
  • Keep your objective in mind
  • Remember that the groundswell is about person-to-person activies
  • Listen, then talk
  • Devote enough time to maintain and follow up on your strategy
  • Be transparent and honest
  • Converse, don't shout

Charlene and Josh see the future of the groundswell as more ubiquitous, and they see mobile playing a much larger role in serving as the primary connection device. They claim that companies will not only want, but need to participate in the groundswell in order to survive.

One thing that struck me about the book is that Charlene and Josh note that not many agencies are in a place to be able to advise clients on social media tactics. They call out Edelman's Me2Revolution as being a good example. As young PR professionals it is important for us to be able to catch on to new trends and advise clients appropriately. As social media becomes more ingrained in every day agency operations, it will be increasingly important for us young professionals to stay up-to-date on recent developments in the feild.

General recos aside though, you can start educating yourself by picking up a copy of Groundswell. Highly recommended! Charlene and Josh also have a great blog too you can check out if you have a few moments of spare time.