GroundswellGroundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff may only be a little over a year old, but much of the advice feels like common sense now. Part of that feeling comes from the fact that some of the advice is actually just common sense that seems to be ignored when dealing with social media. Regardless how obvious some of the information may seem, there is still plenty to learn in the book.

First, we need to look at a key concept and the definition. “The groundswell is broad, ever shifting, and ever growing” and “The groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other instead of from companies.”

These two sentences are possible the most important in the entire book. If you do not understand why, then keep reading. First, if you are not paying attention, the groundswell may have changed directions. The masses are generally fickle, so their favorite site today may not be favored tomorrow. The masses, and those connected in some way to the internet, are constantly growing. Lastly, if people are using social media and other technology to get what they want, then that means there are options besides the company itself. This is a significant change from even 10 years ago when ecommerce was really getting started. Even then, there was little communication among internet users except for email, some message boards and forums. However, these technologies were not nearly as available or public as the social media sites of today.

If this has not convinced you to start listening to the groundswell, Li and Bernoff have other choice nuggets spread throughout the book like, “Market research is very good at finding answers to questions. It’s just not so effective at generating insights.” The basic idea is that when companies conduct market research, they ask specific questions like “Would you like to see this feature in our product?” This is typically a good question to ask, but what you are missing is whether there is a better question to ask. So, what should you do? Well, they have a few suggestions:

Find out what your brand stands for. You know the message you’re trying to get across. How is that different from what people are talking about?

  1. Understand how buzz is shifting. Start listening, and you have a baseline. Keep listening, and you understand change.
  2. Save research money; increase research responsiveness. Brand monitoring is no substitute for traditional research, but it can fill in the details once you’ve identified a trend.
  3. Find the sources of influence in your market. Who’s talking about your product? Once you find the influencers, you can cultivate them.
  4. Manage PR crises. If your company is going to suffer an assault from the groundswell, you’ll hear about it earlier if you’re listening.
  5. Generate new product and marketing ideas. Your customers generate lots of intelligent ideas about your products and services, and they will offer those ideas to you – for free.

One of the big things to be ready for in the groundswell is that not everything is positive. In an example regarding product reviews and ratings on an ecommerce site, they state that negative reviews are just as important as positive reviews:

The negative reviews are essential to the credibility of the site – without them, the positive reviews just don’t seem believable.

This is really just part of human nature, but it is definitely something that many companies will struggle with. People assume that nothing is perfect. If they see a flood of only positive reviews, they will start to think that there is something wrong with the reviews. For example, the iPhone is one of the most beloved mobile devices of the day. However, people will complain that it is available only in black or white, the call quality may be less than desired or that the memory is not as expandable as they would like. There may be 100 positive reviews to ever 3 negative reviews, but those few will legitimize the review process.

More than anything, I think a lot of the groundswell concepts are about letting go and realizing that companies are not entirely in control. This will be very difficult for many companies as they have been trying to control their brand and product image for years and have been quite successful. With the groundswell, this is changing. I leave you with my personal favorite quote from the book:

“The value of a brand belongs to the market, and not the company. The company in this sense is a tool to create value for the brand … Brand in this sense – it lives outside the company, not in the company. When I say that the management is not prepared for dealing with the brand, it is because in their mind-set they are managing a closed structure that is the company. The brand is an open structure – they don’t know how to manage an open structure.” – Ricardo Guimaraes, founder of Thymus Branding

So, have you started listening yet?

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