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Groundswell: A 286 Page Commercial?

“Groundswell” by Forrester Research analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoffis one of the earliest and most influential books on the business effects and uses of social media.  It is often at the top of recommended reading lists, and for good reason.  The book is very well written, informative, practical, actionable and soaked with real stories and examples.  I recommend the book to anyone involved or interested in how social media affects organizations and the ways in which they can leverage it.

But there’s one large caveat; Li and Bernoff (unsurprisingly) take every possible opportunity to inject research analysts into each step of the process.

The Skinny

Why it rocks:

The book brilliantly paints a picture of your organization before, during, and after engagement in social media.  It lays out the influences it is having on all businesses, provides clear and understandable (i.e. non-techy) strategies and tactics for implementing it, and then predicts the aftermath of embracing social media.

Why It Doesn’t:

At every opportunity, the analyst-authors espouse the importance of using analysts to properly align your strategy with the social demographics of your target audience.  On its face, it sounds perfectly logical and back in 2008 (yeah, way back then) it was probably much more important than it is today.  One reason is that the ROI calculation was much more delicate two years ago than it is today, as the investment was generally higher and the return significantly lower.  In other words, it is arguably much easier to earn a positive ROI on social media engagement today.  Also, given the ubiquity of social networking sites and the advent of real time search, there are lots of fringe benefits to social media engagement that, in many cases, can make the ROI case themselves.  Finally, more and more customers expect their vendors to be present in social media.  This means that not participating can become both an opportunity cost and have a negative impact on their brand, both of which are hard to quantify.

Who Will Dig It:

Managers and executives who are ignorant, dubious, curious, or all of the above with regard to the hows and whys of engaging their organizations in social media will find the book very valuable and a fairly easy read.

The Essence

Part one focuses on understanding the groundswell.  This first section by itself would make the book worth reading!  It provides solid background and compelling examples to underscore the concepts.  But it also introduces the core idea of the Social Technographic Profile.  While I think this is a valuable thought exercise, I feel that the concept is a bit overdone.  The idea is that you should tune your social media presence according to the technographical makeup of your target audience.  My thoughts are that there are now sufficient tools available that the cost of leveraging all of the channels makes it a no-brainer to do so regardless of your target audience.

Part two of “Groundswell” builds on the concept of the social technographics profile and describes strategies and tactics for tapping into the groundswell.  With chapters on listening to, talking with, energizing, and helping the groundswell, no stone is left unturned.  Once again, my only beef is that the importance of determining the social technographic profile and shaping your strategy around it is slightly overemphasized.  I would argue that similar to writing a business plan, the journey is more important than the destination.

Finally, part three talks about the transformation that an organization fully engaged in social media will undergo.  These are important considerations, because like many initiatives, an organization cannot simply go through the motions.  Doing so will be painfully obvious to the social media world and will cause more harm than good.

The Verdict

Though I found the self-promotion of the analysts to be a bit strong and notwithstanding the fact that some of the concepts are becoming slightly dated, the book has too much valuable information not to recommend it.  And I do recommend it strongly with my previously expressed caveats.  So, as they say at the end of the book, I “look forward to meeting you in the groundswell.”

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