Why Groundswell Is Still My Favorite Social Strategy Book

…Vacation…time at the beach, and time to catch up on reading…At this more relaxing time of year, it’s interesting to note that of all the business books vying for my attention on the ol’ bookshelf at home, I’m using my free time to re-read a book, which I read almost cover to cover, a year and a half ago, when I began blogging and tweeting.

That book was one of the earliest books I read on social media, and for me, it’s still one of the best, especially if you’re looking for guidance on not just how to get started, but on why getting started is so important, in the first place.

The book remains unique among the many books available on new media because it is written for the entire enterprise, not just for one discipline. It shows how relationships with customers are always more important than tools, and it provides Forrester’s tried and tested process for developing (and evaluating) social strategies.

In its concluding chapters, it describes the internal corporate transformation, so necessary for attaining social business objectives as well as the individual mindset that helps ensure success. All this–with numerous case studies, relevant examples, and supporting ROI data, presented in a highly readable, conversational style.

That book, of course, is Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s now classic Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.

The Groundswell, Defined

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. If you’re still wondering about the groundswell, what Li and Bernoff  describe as “a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect” (p. x), then this is the book for you. So, exactly what is the groundswell?

Simply put, the groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies…The groundswell phenomenon is not a flash in the pan. The technologies that make it work are evolving at an ever-increasing pace, but the phenomenon itself is based on people acting on their eternal desire to connect. It has created a permanent, long-lasting shift in the way the world works. This book exists to help companies deal with the trend, regardless of how the individual technologies pieces change. We call this groundswell thinking (x).

How the Book Is Organized

Groundswell is organized in three parts:

  • Part I: Defines the social trend known as the groundswell and describes the basic technologies (such as blogs, social networks|virtual worlds, wikis and open source, forums|ratings|reviews, tagging, and rss|widgets) in the groundswell, according to how people use them and what they mean for companies. It also describes a tool that allows people in business to examine and then create strategies based on the groundswell tendencies of specific groups of people (see Chapter 3, The Social Technographics Profile).
  • Part II: Defines the four-step POST process for creating strategies—people, objectives, strategy, and technology—and reveals why starting with technologies is a mistake. It further defines the five primary objectives for groundswell strategy:
    Listening to the Groundswell (Research). “Explains how to use the groundswell for research purposes, with tools like private communities and brand monitoring” (p. xii).
    Talking to the Groundswell (Marketing). “Shows how to use the groundswell for marketing and PR, with techniques like user-generated video, blogs, and communities” (p. xii).
    Energizing the Groundswell (Sales). “Illustrates a key strategy—charging up your best customers and enabling them to recruit their peers, through techniques such as ratings, reviews, and communities” (p. xii).
    Helping the Groundswell Support Itself (Support). Provides a strategy for saving money and gaining insight by helping your company’s customers support each other, through for example, community forums and wikis.
    Embracing the Groundswell (Development). “Explains how to accomplish the most powerful goal of all—including your customers as collaborators in your company” (p. xii).
  • Part III: Describes how the groundswell spreads with a customer-centric organization and provides steps for organizations to prepare for a transformation. It provides strategies for nurturing the internal groundswell, including internal social networks, collaborating on wikis, and contributing to idea exchanges. It concludes with a scenario on the future of the groundswell, as well as steps on how to develop the right attitude for groundswell thinking.

Highly Recommended Reading, Especially for Enterprise 2.0

I’ve been noticing a bit of a backlash, on the word “strategy” these days, in the social media community. It’s becoming a catch-all phrase, with lots of folks claiming to be strategists, in the same way that a year and a half ago, everyone was a social media expert. However, if we go back and review Groundswell— for many, still the bible on social strategy—we are reminded of what developing a strategy is really all about…

Social Strategy, Defined

According to Li and Bernoff, a social strategy is a measurable plan for meeting objectives, on how a company wants to change its relationship with customers.

Changing Relationships through Social Technologies

Does your company understand how it wants to change its relationship with customers, through social technologies? What are your company’s objectives? Are you interested in listening to, talking to, energizing, helping, or embracing customers?  How do these goals tie back to the way your customers want to engage with you?

Post Method: A Process for Developing Strategies

Li and Bernoff provide the POST method (p. 67-68), a systematic framework for assembling your plan. Also valuable are the series of questions for evaluating new technologies (see The Groundswell Technology Test, p. 35).

Five Objectives for Groundswell Strategy

The chapters in Part II. Tapping the Groundswell, fully illustrate each of the five primary objectives for groundswell strategy, with compelling stories from the people who make the groundswell. Here, the authors take an inclusive approach, illustrating how groundswell thinking and objectives apply across the organization’s various disciplines.

These objectives are linked to existing business functions in your company (Research, Marketing, Sales, Support, and Development), “except that they’re far more engaged with customers and include more communication—especially communication that happens between customers” (p. 69).

Transforming Your Organization

Through Part III. The Groundswell Transforms, Li and Bernoff provide what may be the most useful strategy tips of all, with ways to nurture groundswell thinking, within your own organization.

The approach here seems especially relevant to Enterprise 2.0, and builds on the advice in the earlier section, “What about business-to-business?” which reminds readers that “businesspeople are people, too” (p. 70).

In business to business settings, picking an objective first is still the best practice. You can listen to, talk to, energize, support, or embrace your business customers—businesspeople—just as you would consumers. And if you don’t start with a clear objective, you’re just as likely to go wrong (p 71).

The Groundswell, as a State of Mind

Li and Bernoff conclude by providing tips on not so much what to do, but rather on how to be; that is, they describe how to develop the right attitude for making the transition to groundswell thinking. These principles (p. 240-241) are what make Li and Bernoff’s book so timeless, and well worth re-reading, before you develop any social strategy or choose your next tool:

  1. “Never forget that the groundswell is about person-to person activity. This means you must be ready to connect to people you haven’t met.”
  2. “Be a good listener.”
  3. “Be patient.”
  4. “Be opportunistic. Start small and build on success. Get moving when you get a green light or have a great idea.”
  5. “Be flexible.”
  6. “Be collaborative.”
  7. “Be humble.”

Related Links

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

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