It seems only natural to blog about a book like Groundswell, a book recently published by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research. After all, the book is about the growing importance of social networking applications - blogs being a big part of that phenomenon.
Li and Bernoff define the Groundswell as a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their own experience and get what they need - from each other instead of from companies. The book looks at the nascent and growing power of informal communication networks using social networking tools - blogs especially, but also social networks and virtual worlds, wikis, online forums, ratings and reviews, tagging and rss feeds. If you've been online lately, you've used one or more of these tools and techniques. What Li and Bernoff are interested in is how these tools and techniques create a completely new dialog between:
- A company and its customers
- The employees within a company
- Customer to customer beyond the scope or control of a company
- Individuals with shared interests
All of this done on the fly, with little centralized control.
The book breaks out into a number of sections. Early in the book, the authors review why the groundswell is taking off and how to participate, and they identify the "tools" - blogs, wikis and so on - that drive the groundswell. Then they introduce the Social Technographic profile, which is meant to provide profiling on how a segment of the population is participating in the groundswell using these tools. Once this platform is built, the authors then look at how to:
- Listen to the groundswell - gain insights from what is written
- Talk to the groundswell - using blogs and communities
- Energize the groundswell - charging up your best online customers
- Embracing the groundswell - including customers as collaborators
Finally, the book looks at a couple of examples of firms that have plunged in head first to gain advantage interacting with these tools and working closely with customers and prospects through the groundswell.
What I like about this book
What's great about this book is that if you and your team know very little about the emerging set of online networking, collaboration and communication tools, the book provides an excellent primer early on, describing what each tool is, how it is used and its benefits. The book is full of excellent examples of firms that have used these tools to advance the interaction between themselves and their customers and prospects.
What I'm skeptical about
The book seems to approach everything from a perspective of "What can the groundswell do for my company?" As a blogger, I tend to think that the "groundswell" - if that's what we are to be called now - expects honest communication and open dialog. The Groundswell to me seems to be more about Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park in London, where anyone with an opinion can bring a soapbox and say what they want to say. If your message is interesting or vital, you'll draw a crowd and grow a network. Many people writing and listening in the "groundswell" are quick to distinguish between "honest" opinion and perspective and "marketing" or PR. I think Groundswell doesn't spend enough time making distinctions between these points. A poorly managed online presence will be quickly sniffed out - especially one where a firm intends to "use" the groundswell for a marketing advantage. It's important to "give" to the groundswell as much as you plan to "get" from it.
This book accurately portrays what any group - a commercial entity, a non-profit, even a government agency - could do leveraging the groundswell. The tools are the easy part - what's hard is opening up to the dialog. Can your organization bear the criticism and questions about its products and services, as well as bask in the positive glow of good feedback?
I was a little disappointed in the wrap up. The authors demonstrate throughout the book deep knowledge of the current state of the groundswell. But as industry analysts and forecasters of future trends, they spend disappointingly little time on the future of the groundswell. Given that almost all of these tools (blogs, wikis, tagging, RSS Feeds) are disaggregated services offered by very small companies or as open source or freeware, what is going to happen? Will we see a consolidation of these tools into some sort of "ERP" for the groundswell? Will I need to turn to del.ici.ous for tagging and Blogger for Blogging and PBWiki for my Wiki, or will these combine? What are larger firms to do that may have concerns about disaggregated, third party solutions run by very small firms that may not be able to demonstrate longevity or the ability to manage critical, sensitive communication links to customers? Given that the two authors make their living as industry analysts, I would have expected a much more detailed look at potential future scenarios.
This book is great if you are just starting out as a "newby" trying to understand how to join the online conversation. Whether you want to tag and aggregate or find interesting feeds or information, or want to actively contribute through ratings, feedback or by blogging, or create an entirely new social network, this book has great advice for you.