4 May 2008

Book review: Groundswell

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Today I read Groundswell: winning a world transformed by social technologies (alternate siteamazon page) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (analysts at Forrester). [I was sent a review copy].   

It is a book aimed senior managers in charge of marketing, pr, customer support and (to some extent) product development at major international companies, who are trying to figure out what to do about all this user-generated content (UGC) and who tend to perceive it as a threat to institutional power.

The premise of the book is that these people, who are steeped in one-directional communications and marketing culture, now have to face a different world that they don’t know how to handle. They are ‘digital immigrants’ rather than ‘digital natives’.

This business strategy book, which contains a lot of practical ‘how they did it’ stories, is set out to help those people see UGC not as a threat, but as an opportunity, to communicate, to reach out, to listen and to learn, and puts a lot of emphasis on putting people and their relationships first, above all the rest (and in that sense, I am or course pleased).

It is not a book though that is aimed at me, nor at the readers of this blog: the first chapter for example contains “how they work” descriptions of blogs, social networks, virtual worlds, wikis, forums, tags, and rss, which is not something Putting People First/UXnet readers need input on.

However, people like me will undoubtedly gain some good ideas on how to talk better with our customers/senior managers, media relations, or public.

That said, it is not a book that gives something valuable to all: though it might be valuable for its intended target group, I was somewhat irritated since the book didn’t contain any deep and revealing insight. I was hoping for a groundswell in thought, a new conceptual way of looking at things, something that would make me look at my professional world in a different way, but such depth was absent.

The book is what the subtitle says: it is how-to guide about “winning in a world transformed by social technologies”. The emphasis is on the ‘winning’ bit. Don’t expect to learn much about the social technologies.

Here are some paragraphs from the corporate press release:

Using technologies like blogs and wikis, YouTube and Facebook, discussion forums and online reviews, today’s customers are taking charge of their own experience and getting what they need — information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power — from eadch other. This phenomenon, or groundswell, has created a permanent shift in the way the world works. Most companies see it as a threat — but the authors of a new book see the groundswell as an opportunity. So where should company strategists start?

In GROUNDSWELL: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Charlene li and Josh Bernoff, two of Forrester Research’s top analyst, show executives, marketers and general managers how to turn the force of customers connecting to their own advantage.

Based on real customer data and over ten years of research analyzing the effects of tecnology on business, the authors provide real stories of the people who make the groundswell and amazing place — and shed light into the psychology what’s happening. Li and Bernoff provide the following information for managers, executives — anyone looking to understand this social phenomenon:

  • Applications for every kind of manager, from marketing to research to customer support to product development
  • A focus on clear objectives and examples with ROI laid out in detail
  • Data from Forrester’s Technographics, a collection of global technology surveys
  • Management examples that show how the groundswell can supercharge employee productivity
  • A clear look at the future of the groundswell and tips for groundswell thinking

The groundswell phenomenon is not a flash in the pan. The technologies that make it work are evolving at an ever-increasing pace, but the phenomenon itself is based on people acting on their external desire to connect. GROUNDSWELL helps executives in all industries from media and retail to financial services and health care understand this trend.

And here some links to other reviews:
– by Jacob Morgan
– by Elizabeth Albrycht

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