Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Groundswell - Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Subtitled: "winning in a world transformed by social technologies" it was published in April of 2008 by Harvard Business Press. It is a transformative book that truly enlightens those of us struggling to apply the "buzz" of blogging and social networking to existing business practices.

Early in the book the authors make a very essential point about the nature of these hot new technologies: the technology is secondary. It's the relationships between people and how they come together, shift, and create a "groundswell" that gives this movement it's power. Hence the title of the book. Li and Bernoff make an excellent case for why it's important to tap into this phenomenon. But rather than trying to control, direct or guide what is happening on blogs, forums and websites, it's a matter of figuring out what role to play that benefits both the consumers and the company. It's about engaging the people who do business with you and allowing them to help you grow your business.

Their case studies are fascinating and informative. Using the data gathered through their years of research at Forrester Research, they have compiled both convincing empirical data and engaging anecdotal examples to make their points. They also created a chart that helps to clarify the different types of online consumers and how they behave in specific circumstances. They've divided adults online into the following profiles according to their behavior: Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives. There are different levels of engagement among these groups that affect how they interact with any website online.

The book is amazing in it's ability to break down this complex and somewhat mysterious new world into concepts that are easily grasped. But understanding consumer behavior and being able to apply that knowledge in designing a consumer experience clients will be drawn to are two different things. I believe nearly everyone can grasp the concepts, but I believe it will be an enormous hurdle for many businesses to let go of top-down, push-out, advertising-based initiatives in favor of something that is developed, owned and managed essentially by consumers.

It's a "must read" in my opinion. I think the world is already at a point where consumers wield a great deal of influence because of blogs, forums and the ability to self publish. Companies in the 21st century ignore that kind of power and influence at their own peril.

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