Posted by: ashleyarmstrong1 | November 12, 2009

Book Review: Groundswell – Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

coverThe Globe & Mail published an article recently citing a Citibank survey  that found three quarters of small businesses in the US say they have not found Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful in generating business leads or expanding business in the past year. The survey found 42 per cent of small businesses have made greater use of their company websites to generate business leads and sales.

Is social media really not useful, or are we still figuring out how to use these tools to our advantage? Social media is still a new frontier and many small businesses are not sure how it applies to them.

There are several examples of companies that have successfully applied online strategies that support their business goals. Groundswell is an award-winning book by two Forrester Research analysts, Josh Bernoff and Cherlene Li, that takes an in-depth look at how businesses can take a strategic approach with social media to gain insights, generate revenue, save money and energize customers. The book uses a case study approach to demonstrate ways that companies such as HP, P&G, Blentec, Constant Contact and Lego have successfully used social media to their advantage.

Bernoff and Li 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.” They state that people’s desire to connect, new interactive technologies and online economics have created a new era that is an important, irreversible and completely different way for people to relate to companies and each other.  In other words, if you’re not already in the game, it’s time to get your plan together and start because this trend isn’t going away, and by sitting in the sidelines you’ll miss valuable opportunities and having distinct advantages over your competitors. As Bernoff and LI state: “You cannot ignore this trend. You cannot sit this one out.”

I am intrigued by the abundance of possibilities social technologies offer companies when used effectively.  While Groundswell is written to a wide range of businesses and organizations, small businesses can hugely benefit from their strategic approach to this area. Here is a summary of how to get started:

When Create and implementing a successful social strategy, the first steps are to consider the following questions:

1) What is your goal?

Align the online community objective with the business goals, or else it’s a waste of time and resources. As Bernoff and Li state, “copying others doesn’t work because your company, your customers, and your goals are not the same as somebody else’s.” And, “If you don’t enter the groundswell with a specific goal, you will fail…Your strategy should be defined from the start to focus on a primary objective, and it is progress toward that objective that you should measure.  Then you will be able to measure the return on your groundswell objective. And that, based on our experience, is the path most likely to lead to success.“

2) Who are you customers? Who is your audience? What are my customers ready for?

There is a social network and approach for every audience. Groundswell has provided a free tool at to learn more about your customer’s Social Technographics profile, which will help you to create a targeted strategy.

3) Ask yourself, am I ready for the changes and impact this strategy will have on the company?

Consider how the strategy will change the company. You must assess and address the ways that social technologies change the customer relationship. Your blog, for example, could become a magnet for negative comments. Consider possible consequences ahead of time. Expect that things will go wrong. Start with a plan that starts small and has room to grow as the landscape changes. You must be willing to be flexible throughout the process, and make changes when things aren’t working.

Bernoff and Li outline 5 primary objectives companies can pursue in the groundswell. They recommend starting with one, depending on your company’s strategy and goals. They are:

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


With listening you can:

  1. Find out what your brand stands for
  2. Understand how buzz is shifting
  3. Save research money; increase research responsiveness
  4. Find the sources of influence in your market. (bloggers, discussion forums, etc. Once you find the influencers you can cultivate them)
  5. Manage PR crises. You’ll hear about a PR issue earlier if you are listening.
  6. Generate new product and marketing ideas.

If you’re listening, expect to be talking soon, too.


The method of talking in the groundwell depends on what your problem is and what your goal is. Examples of ways to talk include:

  • Post a viral video (While you do this keep your objective in mind. What will you do once you get attention?)
  • Engage in social networks, such as Facebook, if your customers are in this space (this isn’t for everyone). See what’s out there already. Move forward if people love your brand. Create a presence that encourages interaction and be ready to interact.
  • Join the blogosphere. Know your audience. Start by listening. Have a goal for your blog.  Be sure you are willing to really put in the effort, be interactive and be honest.
  • Create a community. Figure out if your market is a community already. Be sure you can support it for the long term before jumping in.


This objective is a good fit for companies with customers who are or who could be enthusiastic about the company or products. You need to be prepared for the response, because you will hear negative thoughts as well good thoughts. Ways to find enthusiastic customers and turn them into word of mouth machines include:

  • Tap into customer’s enthusiasm with rating and reviews
  • Create an online community to energize your customers
  • Participate in and energize online communities of your brand enthusiasts


It’s very expensive to support customers with traditional methods. In the groundswell, customers can support each other. Consider whether to join an existing community or create a new support community where customers can help each other. It will take awhile to drive people to the space and encourage them to participate, so be prepared to be involved for the long haul.


Embracing the groundswell changes the way you do business. Be willing to hear what you don’t want to hear, and be responsive. As you learn insights about your customer, you can move more quickly making changes and improvements, save money and make life difficult for competitors. As you go down this path, it’s important to tell the customers what you’ve done in response to their suggestions. To be successful here, you have to prove you’re ready to listen and to act.

Overall, if you are thinking about joining the social media world, but aren’t sure how to do it, this book is a useful resource for starting to create and implementing an online strategy for your company.


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