Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking lessons on how to tap the "Groundswell"

It was about two weeks ago that our editorial staff gathered around a table in a conference room, pored over circulation figures and prognosticated about the future of our publication in the age of Web 2.0.
Those of us in old media are starting to feel, well ... outdated.
Then someone wondered aloud, "Why aren’t we using social media to help ourselves now?"
We should be, all agreed.
But how?
We needed a strategy.
It was happenstance that I started to read “Groundswell,” just a few days later for this review.
“Groundswell,” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff,  is a veritable how-to guide for companies looking to harness the power of social media to better their business.
And as the authors point out, just about every company should fall into that category nowadays.
There’s no escaping the trend. Your customers have a voice and they want to use it. Web 2.0 has given them all they need to do it. They share their opinions of your products, and they help to define your brand, for better or worse.
So unless a company figures out a way to use social media to tap into its customers, to listen, respond and engage, it risks being left in the dust.
"Groundswell" drives that point home.

Embracing a new mindset
The book does not offer cookie-cutter solutions.
Li and Bernoff look to open their readers’ minds to a new way of thinking so they can develop solutions for themselves.
They accomplish what they set out to do.
Throughout the book, I found myself pausing to explore possibilities that had never crossed my mind before.
“I wonder if people would take part in forums about local history, and if that might actually help generate interesting stories for our publication,” I thought.
“How would people respond if we prompted them with ‘If I were the editor...' ? Could we gain insight about what people want to see more or less of?”
“What if our editor took to blogging, rather than writing traditionally constructed editorials for the op-ed page?”

Insight through examples
"Groundswell" is full of detailed examples of how companies use social media to their advantage.
You can hear Bernoff talk about a few examples in the book in Forrester Research video clips on YouTube:

  • Lego -- Tapped into an online community of adult users of its products, a small but incredibly loyal segment.
  • Proctor & Gamble -- Created a web community for young girls as an indirect method to market its tampons.
  • Ebags -- Embraced customers and responded to their suggestions to improve their products and build brand loyalty.
  • Dell -- Used blogging to deal with an uprising of unhappy customers, being open and honest about problems while they looked to improve their products.
Providing a guide
The book provides many additional examples, and in great detail.
The examples are instructive. But the underlying theme of the book is that each business needs to formulate its own strategy.
To do that, the authors suggest a method they dubbed “POST” - People, Objectives, Strategy and  Technology.
First, a company must analyze its customers to figure out who they are. How are they using the web? Where and how might you best engage them?
Second, it needs to set objectives. Does it want to promote a new product? Does it want to tap a new customer base for an existing product?
Third, it needs to figure out a strategy. “Do you want customers to help carry messages to other customers?” the authors write. “Do you want them to become more engaged with your company?”
After you've answered these, you can get your feet wet, the authors advise. Start small. Stay committed. Build on what works.

Aging, but not outdated
“Groundswell” is now going on three years old. In a time when technology is advancing as rapidly as it is now, that's a long time. But the book's lessons remain as relevant today as they did in 2008.
Companies who embrace social media and use it smartly can benefit greatly.
But as the authors conclude in the final chapter, "Within a few years, a company that doesn't engage in this sort of activity will look dated."
Guess what? "Within a few years" is now.