Groundswell Book Review – Fabulous!

I just finished reading the book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (analysts at Forrester), and what a book it is!  I also had the opportunity to interview Charlene about the book.  Here are some thoughts about the book, as well as a few comments from Charlene.  I will post the transcript of the interview with her soon; stay tuned!

Book Review

I do a lot of speaking on how to use social media to strengthen customer relationships, and Groundswell provides a great overview of not just the how but also the why.  The groundswell, as defined by the authors, is a social trend in which people use technologies to get what they need from each other, rather than from, say, corporations.  One of the reasons I like the book so much can be found in this quote:

…here’s the principle for mastering the groundswell: concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.

This is Customers Rock! thinking, and I love it.  

This is not the book to read if you want to know all the details of the current social media technologies (although there is a nice overview in Chapter 2 – check out the part that describes how each technology enables relationships).  That is part of what makes this book so powerful.  Although technologies change quickly, the strategies outlined in this book are timeless. 

Setting Goals

Charlene and Josh stress the importance of setting clear goals when engaging in the groundswell.  They recommend choosing one of five different objectives, matching the objective for entering the groundswell to the company’s objective.  These include the following:

  • Listening – better understand your customers
  • Talking – spread your message
  • Energizing – supercharge Word of Mouth
  • Supporting – get customers to help each other
  • Embracing – collaborate on your business

There is a chapter for each of these strategies, including case studies of companies who are doing them well.  In addition, there are several examples of potential ROI for these activities (Charlene did note for me that they “threw everything into these business calculations”, so the costs may well differ for you!).   Charlene also told me that they turned away great cases for the book because they didn’t have the data to back up their successes.

Customer Profiles

Another very helpful part of Groundswell is the tables of customers and their “Social Technographic Profile.”  Forrester has done in-depth research around people’s activities online, and the tables outline which people are more likely to watch the online world (spectators) versus actively participate in it in various ways (creators/critics/collectors/joiners).  Here is an example for small business owners:


There is also a free tool on the Groundswell site so you can check out what your customers might be doing.  Although it is a little more generic than the tables in the book, it will still give you an idea of what is happening with certain demographics.

Highly Recommended

I agree with Charlene and Josh – the most important part of engaging in the groundswell is setting objectives.  There are too many companies out there trying to “do social media” just because their competitors are doing it.  Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies will help your company take the right perspective and set the right priorities.   It will also get you thinking about customer relationships, and any book focusing on that relationship is one I highly recommend.  I am even considering using this book as the textbook for my class Marketing with New Media (UCSD Extension program)…!

11 Responses

  1. This book is a life-changer. I’ve been in the Interactive space for 8 years but lately have been feeling that the technology is moving faster than I am. Groundswell is helping me to think differently about this ever-changing landscape. I am only through Chapter 3 (at I type) but would absolutely suggest this book to anyone in Online Marketing!

  2. Ron, I agree that this book is one of the best I have seen on this topic. I highly recommend it to not just those in online marketing but to those who have customers in the groundswell – which is most of us! Thanks for adding in your review-in-progress. :)

    Josh, you are very welcome! Thanks for coming over to the blog – and spelling error corrected. Sorry about that!

  3. I’ve seen a couple mentions of this book now, I’ll have to go out and track one down. I’m all about setting reachable goals and manageable priorities.

    As my company goes through its first social media heavy product launch/release for our new SaaS- Email Center Pro, we’re learning the best and worst ways of using the tools out there and what works for our company… and more importantly … our customer!

  4. ‘Chelle, good to see you out here! Yes, track the book down, and let me know what you think after you read it. :)

    Keep me posted on how your social media-heavy release goes. Understanding what works for customers is critical to making that part of it happen – and I am sure you are on top of that, as you are a social media diva!

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