Sunday, October 18, 2009

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

Why did you select this book? What did you hope to gain from it?

I selected, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies – Kindle Edition by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff for several reasons. First, the book was written by two analysts from a respected marketing research company, Forrester Research. Marketing research is an area of interest to me and I believe is very relevant to our ecommerce coursework. I also selected the book because there were a series of YouTube videos with both authors describing the main points from the book with additional ideas and examples. There is also a blog at with a lot of fantastic information. Finally, I selected the book because it was highly rated on I had hoped to gain some insight into social technologies and how businesses can use them for marketing research.

What is the book about? Who is the intended audience?

The book is a manual of sorts for marketing executives; meant to explain how social technologies are being used to facilitate consumer-to-consumer conversations and word-of-mouth marketing without either their knowledge or their input. This topic was also covered in our text as important to managers because it poses an opportunity as social network marketing hit $2 billion in 2009, still less then one-tenth of all online marketing, but growing at 52% a year. Groundswell is a how-to guide for companies and brands to join the conversation and leverage the groundswell to their advantage.

What is the primary value delivered from this book?

The strongest aspects of this book are (1) data and analysis including ROI and (2) relevant examples of both successes and failures in the groundswell. One example comes from another author, Fred Reichheld in his book, The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. The value of a Dell customer is $210 and as surveyed, 25% of new customers said they where referred to Dell by another customer. Using his research into how a Firm’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) correlates with its growth, Reichheld estimates the value of a Dell promoter’s positive word of mouth at $42. The point? Get to that customer, have a direct conversation, generate additonal positive contacts and managers can see that figure grow exponentially. The authors walk through Dell's somewhat rocky start using blogs by chronicling the "flaming notebook" incident an how managers addressing this problem head-on and admitting their mistakes lead to great success.

The book also lays out a framework for managers to include social technologies into their company’s overall marketing strategy with the acronym POST:

People - To be successful, managers must start with thorough market research and customer segmentation. They must understand where their customers are and HOW and WHY they use social technologies.
Objectives - Managers should decide if they want to talk, listen, energize, support or embrace their online audience.
Strategies - Managers should consider how this engagment will impact their relationships with their external and internal customers.
Technologies - Only after deciding on people, objectives and strategy should the manager then move on to determining whether they want to use blogs, wikis, social networks, etc.

The primary value of this book is summarized by the authors early on. Managers who want to turn the groundswell into an opportunity should be focusing on HOW and WHY customers use these technologies, not the technologies themselves. So the book does not focus on technical details but, rather overall strategies that can guide managers even as the technologies (which should be viewed as tactics) continue to evolve.

What are the weaknesses, inconsistencies, or incorrect assumptions?

Authors Li and Bernoff say that the groundswell is “...spontaneous movement of people using tools to connect, to take charge of their own experience and get what they need -- information, support, ideas, products and bargaining power -- from each other” instead of getting it from corporate Marketing, PR, and Advertising departments. I understand this definition, but I disagree with the authors’ view that this movement is somehow a threat to “institutional power”. I believe that we have been moving toward more customer focused business model for the last decade. Social technologies like Facebook, blogs,, and YouTube merely amplify what customers were already thinking and saying about a brand – positive and negative. Besides, a business that has a strong customer relationship management process should not have a problem with the transparency afforded by new technologies. So, although I think this book gives some amazing examples and invaluable advice, it simply will not help those companies who don’t view customers as assets to be valued, developed and retained.

Despite this gap, I would recommend Groundswell for managers and executives looking to engage their customers and gain a better understanding of their wants and needs. In the end, this is a business strategy book and would be an extremely valuable read for any manager.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

    /josh bernoff, coauthor, Groundswell

  2. I agree that customers should be the number one focus for any business; or at least have employees first, who will in turn treat your customers well, who come second best. I think that without know what customers want your company will not be able to bring value to your target consumers. This idea of listening to your customers, reminds me of an example from my reading. In SL (second life), a few major car companies will hold weekly meeting with their customers. In this meeting they will have the newest and latest car that has not come out in "first life"(the real world), and residents in SL will be able to view, examine, and offer new ideas or features that they would like to see. [The cars that the SL residences are viewing are replicas of the real life automobile.] This benefits the company, because they are listening to what the consumers want and in the end will come out with a better product that fits the needs and wants of their customers.

  3. Laura,

    I didn't realize SL did that. I think that is pretty cool way to engage customers and get some great market research! Groundswell talks about how set up a community called IdeaExchange - a place where customers could make suggestions or air complaints - basically a place where customers could tell what they wanted and needed. Recently, I have been charged with researching CRM for the company I am interning with. We need a solution that is customizable and a company who is responsive. This case study lead me to first.

  4. Thank you, Josh! I learned a lot from reading Groundswell. It really complimented our coursework in service marketing and marketing strategy.

  5. This book sounds very interesting and it seems like it goes well with the e-commerce course.