Groundswell review

Back in May, a colleague pointed me to Groundswell, a new book out by the folks at Forrester. The notion of social technographics resonated with me right away, it was similar to the idea of the motivations of iCitizens, as explored in the book The OPEN Brand by thought leaders at my company, Resource Interactive.

Groundswell was promoted in a very open, accessible way. I subscribed to the blog (with Charlene Li leaving Forrester, it will be interesting to find out where Groundswell news will now live), and learned more about the philosophy via a free webinar. I read about social technographics and POST, and the book landed on my (admittedly lengthy) “to read” list. So when a blog post went out on May 21 offering free copies for blog reviewers, I was quick to respond. At the time, I also made a suggestion to entertain the notion of interviews with authors, as Rohit Bhargava did for “Personality Not Included“. As I went to grab the link to the blog post today, I see that they’d updated the post to thank me for my suggestion and offer up such interviews. I will definitely see if the possibility still exists! I also have to admit that I’m absolutely tickled that they were receptive to my suggestion.

As I mentioned, I was already somewhat informed and very excited about Groundswell even before the book arrived. But unlike many movie trailers these days, the promotion of the book did not “give away all the good stuff”. While I was familiar with some of the broad concepts, the level of detail given to them, as well as the in-depth case studies and additional information made this a valuable read.

According to the authors, “the groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get things from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” No one can deny that technology is changing how people communicate and get informed, yet it is not always clear what the implications to business are.

Such implications are two-fold: how can an organization adjust to remain relevant to consumers, and how can they actually benefit from this trend?

The book is organized in a straightforward manner: Part 1 – Understanding the Groundswell walks the reader through the “what”, the “how” and the “who”. What this trend is about, what tools are being used, and who’s using them. The important message echoed throughout the book is that it’s necessary to “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” Even as a technologist, I think this is an incredibly important point. It’s not about having a wiki, or a blog. It’s about tapping into the sort of relationship you are trying to foster, and determining the best means to do so. A book about technologies is destined to become outdated: societal shifts happen slightly more slowly 🙂 This is not to say that the book does not mention specific technologies or services, but it is not the focus.

The chapter on the “who” explores the notion of the social technographics profile, the initial idea that attracted me to the book. Individuals are characterized based on their level of engagement online, although it is acknowledged that “the same person may have different motivations depending on where she’s participating, what day it is and her current mood or objectives.” Forrester has done some great work around characterizing online users, and their profiling tool can help an organization made some broad assumptions about the level of engagement of their users. This can help identify the applicable tactics to be employed, based on what activities your visitors are likely to engage in.

Part 2 – Tapping the Groundswell outlines a four-step planning process for aligning with the Groundswell. POST is the acronym used to refer to the order of the steps: considering People, Objectives, Strategy and lastly Technology. While this trend is characterized by the use of technology, technology is but the enabler, and must be relevant to the people who are to use it.

The book outlines five primary objectives that companies may pursue. These are:

  1. Listening
  2. Talking
  3. Energizing
  4. Supporting
  5. Embracing

In order to make these objectives seem more concrete and relevant, they are mapped to existing business functions: listening = research, talking = marketing, energizing = sales, support = supporting, development = embracing. This may make it easier for organizations to identify a single objective for their project or initiative, and help frame strategy and technology.

As well, the objective of the initiative can help establish the baselines for measuring success. Two of the case studies illustrated this point. Blue Shirt Nation is an online community for Best Buy employees. The site objective is to listen to employees, and the creators were more than happy when 10% of all Best Buy employees joined. In contrast, the social networking site set up by Organic was created to “re-energize employee collaboration”, and the majority of employees need to use it for it to truly be effective.

The next five chapters of the book go into more detail as to how to leverage technologies to achieve these strategies. There are detailed case studies, and in some cases even some rough numbers outlining the ROI of the activity! The list of companies and case studies are impressive and help legitimize the movement. Not all of the stories are straight-forward ‘success stories’, but each shows to highlight how an individuals’ vision and dedication made a difference.

After all, is this not the point of the Groundswell? The significance of an individual to make a difference? An organization may not always be prepared to respond to the suggestions of individuals (internally or externally) but it must be aware of the fact that those discussions are taking place regardless.

Part 3: The Groundswell Transforms attempts to prepare the reader for the implications of embracing these new ways of engaging with the consumer. A major consideration, and one that organizations are not always prepared for, is the notion of giving up control. This is an essential step to truly leverage the power of the Groundswell, but requires a fundamental change throughout the organization.

Another impact to the organization as a whole is the idea of leveraging the tools of the Groundswell inside the company itself. I’ve worked several places that have provided employees with blogs, wikis and forums to generate internal collaboration. It is not enough, however, to simply make the tools available. Often it is felt that leaders must drive the use of these tools, or they will not be widely adopted. If the company’s leadership does not recognize the significance of such relationships or means of engagement, that perception will be perpetuated down the ranks. On the flip-side, however, it is recognized that it’s “nearly impossible to force social technologies on organizations from the top down, because by their definition, these technologies require the participation of [the] employees.” It’s important that everyone in the organization embrace this new way of doing business.

The last chapter, the future of the Groundswell, paints a picture of what the future holds. Again, this is not focused on specific technologies or tools, but rather on how relationships are evolving and how to be prepared for them.

Groundswell is a well-crafted, thoughtful book. The book is not a high-level theoretical tome on how organizations must adapt to this new way of doing business. Rather, it provides guidance, encouragement and plenty of anecdotal evidence to individuals who sense the change, and want to be on the forefront.

I have been talking about Groundswell and social technographics for months now. Recognizing the visitor’s motivations and providing him with tools to satisfy his specific needs really appeals to my background in user experience. Now that I’ve read the book, I feel even more prepared to actually put these practices in place. As a technologist, I know that this stuff isn’t hard to actually build, it is the shift in organizational perspective and acceptance that is the biggest challenge. Thankfully this book has provided plenty of evidence showing the benefits of this shift, and hopefully will help accelerate this evolution in how organizations conduct business.

8 thoughts on “Groundswell review

  • Thanks for the great review. You obviously put a lot of time into it.

    The more we hear about people using the book in their own businesses, the more excited we get.

  • great review, perhaps the best one I’ve read! I’m starting to work with a company here in Japan, and very much looking to use the book as a starting point, so I ordered 2: in Japanese and English 🙂

  • @Terri – wow, that different languages would be interesting! I was a French/Spanish major in university, and occasionally would read the same book in different languages – the nuances are interesting.
    I wonder if the same sentiment and approach will translate well into the Japanese culture.. in many ways I see their technology domain as far advanced, but I’m not familiar with how comfortable companies are with opening up and letting others take the reins of their marketing and public persona.

  • @Andrea: oh. goodness, they’re not both for me, it would take me too long! I’ll read the English while my partner, who is Japanese, will read the Japanese, and compare notes…

    Well, your ‘…same sentiment and approach…” question is indeed the challenge. On the mobile front, I think the Japanese are culturally way ahead of the States, with novels being written, and becoming hugely popular, on mobile phones>books>movies, etc.

    Social media doesn’t seem to be as rich here, but it also seems to suit its huge audience quite well. The approach to anonymity is a bit different, but not entirely. But, the big issue of how interested companies are in opening up is a definitely a potential obstacle.

    Since the company is doing something that we believe has a good societal benefit and a lot of natural interest for people here, we’ll be the point people for their social media effort for this particular project: it’ll be an authentic and very transparent project. That way, they’ll get a chance to see how it works, and move into the space in a way that suits them culturally. We hope!

  • @Terri,
    well in some ways it may be easier to present the approach in the way you desire. I’ve found that unlearning bad habits or overcoming preconceived notions can often be the largest challenge. Coming into a community that is less familiar with social media may be the best way to start things off on the right foot.

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