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

It seems all the marketing world is abuzz over social media. Everyone wants to do it, but there is no best practices approach to follow. That is until now. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, two high powererd analysts at Forrester Research published a book this spring containing their recipe for starting and nurturing social community.

It’s part blueprint, part self-help book and part research report. I found it to be comprehensive and exhaustive, at least as much as any study can be at this early stage of a new wave. The book can help brands of all sizes and from all verticals, but is tilted towards the bigger firms.

In typical Forrester style they have done their homework. Consumers, brands, software firms, you name it and they looked at it. The style is straightforward and easy to read, oftentimes playing back actual conversations they’ve had with clients. Case studies of course, and even some that didn’t work out.

My company is just beginning to explore this new way to market our brand and content and I found this book incredibly helpful. I’ve given 5 copies out to senior executives at work, and making it highly recommended reading for my staff. It starts with listening to your customers and ends with embracing them to help you make better products. But there is a whole lot of things to do, and not do, in between. It’s all mapped out.

The authors are realistic and clearly outline potential pitfalls, constantly reminding us to be patient, go slowly and get buy in at the highest levels.

Near the end they challenge the more sophisticated thinkers to imagine how working in the groundswell will actually transform their companies over time. How they market, conduct service, carry out PR and launch new products. I’ve been on a hunt for more sources of value for my company, and I believe this could be a viable one.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to come up the curve quickly on social media and community. A must read for all marketers, even if you’re not looking to launch into community at this time.

To get a taste of the book and the Forrester style of analyses, visit the Groundswell blog here. Or you could just buy the book here.

P.S. Charlene Li has recently left Forrester. I have relied on her advice and work for several years and I will miss that. On her “Why I’m leaving Forrester” blog I wrote a three word description of Charlene Li; a rare person. Hopefully our paths will cross again some day as we navigate through our professional lives. Best of luck to her!

More Thoughts About Social Media

You’re in a meeting with marketing execs (or you are marketing exec) and the topic is social media. The various constituents around the table have come with their usual analog playbook. “Tell them how great our products are, get them to buy, here’s where we make our money,” blah, blah, blah. One of the first things brought up is My Space. “We need to get out on My Space.” The task is assigned to a low level associate.

Fast forward two months later. The players reconvene to discuss progress. No My Space page has been launched yet. “The agency is working on it, and we’ll get a look any day now.” More pressure is applied to just get something out there. “Everyone in the organization needs to be on it!”  A suggestion is made to give everyone a small slice of the page and that should do it, right?

The above hypothetical conversation is being repeated in meeting rooms all over corporate America. It won’t end well. The community is not a company web site, or another surface for plastering the marketing flavor of the month. I put forth that social media is, in fact, closer to architecture than it is marketing or advertising.

Architecture is born of pragmatism. To be successful it must be built on a foundation of the necessity to serve people. Those not open to theoretical thought might want to skip to the next paragraph. Online community is a manifestation of dependent origination. This concept holds that all beings exist in relation to other beings. Everything is linked in an intricate web of causation and connection. Nothing exists in a vacuum. In this view, a greater emphasis is placed on the interdependent relationships between individuals than on the individual in isolation. Whew, that’s out of the way.

Does this mean that marketing dot points and advertising banners are off limits? Well not exactly, but they certainly need to evolve beyond the intrusive, shouting, stone age tactics marketers employ today.

People own the web. At least for now. We need to keep tabs on how Washington rules on net neutrality. If people want the corporate spiel they will fire up their browser and type in your URL. Once they do that all is fair game on your turf, but beware. Or is it be aware? The consumer is on to your little games. Most likely what they will do after reviewing your brilliantly crafted HTML is ask the community for their opinions. Many in body, one in mind. No amount of money can buy or influence what’s said in the community (for long). The currency in this world is connected to how someone, or a collection of someones (your company) behaves. Oh, and one more thing. It’s really strict.

Culture Flow: A Social Influence Marketing Framework

Humans want to connect with other humans by communicating what’s important in their lives. Each of us traverses life in their own unique way. But there are countless points of commonality experienced during the course of an ordinary day. Have you ever been driving your car or surfing the web with no one else around, and you wanted to share it with someone? Of course. You probably shared at the water cooler or on the phone with a friend later that day. An online community gives us a way to put those experiences on the web where our friends can see it. It’s a window into our life, but we are the one who decides when to open it.

So what should we do about those corporate types that are so very far behind the curve? I’m not advocating we ignore them. Their desires are genuine and objectives sound. They also hold the positions of power and got there because of an impressive track record. They’re smart, so we must convince them. Consider this.

  • Create a monitoring tool to help you listen to the groundswell. The community knows all. Shouldn’t you listen?
  • By listening you will learn. Learning makes you smarter. Smarter increases your chances of success.
  • Think like a media company. ABC TV has a Lost Facebook page, not an ABC Facebook page. Identify pockets of passion in your companies’ products. What resonates? Why?
  • Resist the standard marketing dribble.
  • Tap your internal research or insights team. BTW, they are the ones that are closest to the truth about consumer intent and behavior.
  • You must connect the somewhat abstract community world to stock price or other profitability measures. The sooner you can get that on paper with sound business metrics and projections the better. Safety tip: don’t even think about skipping this step!
  • Build a mother ship community on your web site. That’s the center of your universe. You must have this or you will spend lots of time and money chasing the influencers who are already visiting your web site and waiting for you to launch a place for them. Duh.
  • Don’t try to build this internally. Time waits for no man and funding is a premium.
  • Make real estate investments with the big community players now. Facebook, My Space, etc., those are the planets that will orbit within the solar system of your company.
  • Focus on the products that the community is passionate about. Remember it’s about people not the company.
  • Watch what others are doing with community. Look outside your vertical. No one knows all. We learn by doing and watching each other.
  • Create an internal community on your own intranet. Harness the power of all the people who work for you who are already participating in the groundswell.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your company is today. Online community is a level playing field. But it must be architected for the people. It’s not traditional marketing. The benefits will come if you do it right.

View and download the full PowerPoint presentation, Culture Flow: A Social Influence Marketing Framework from here.