Groundswell and social business: moving towards maturity

Current state.

Yesterday I covered general updates to Groundswell and specifics around Twitter. The other major update to Groundswell focuses on attaining social maturity and provides a model where companies can self-identify and determine what’s needed to progress further.

Most companies are clustered around the middle of the bell curve when it comes to maturity, with the ultimate goal of becoming a social business. Forrester calls this the empowering stage. I’ve been discussing social business recently with Social Media Club San Francisco, at BlogWorld Expo New York, and in the original concept of social business design. With an understanding of the end goal, it’s important to focus on getting there, which is where most of my company’s work focuses today.

Here’s what I asked Josh about his findings on social maturity.

Most companies have gotten started with listening and talking, but the minority have moved on to more complex – and seemingly more valuable – objectives. What specific factors hold companies back from maturing?

Listening is effortless and low risk. Talking is an obvious extension of other forms of marketing. But energizing requires real thought about what customers want and who they are. Supporting means a commitment to care about and respond to customers. And embracing means admitting your customers sometimes have better ideas than you do. Those last three objectives cross organizational boundaries in sales, marketing, customer service, and product development. And crucially, they mean messy contact with the actual annoying humans that are your customers. You can do listening and talking without getting your hands dirty – the other objectives aren’t quite so comfortable.

Some social objectives are more popular than others

Which industries exhibit advanced maturity and which are laggards? Is there a difference in B2C vs. B2B?

We’ve seen a lot of maturity in retail, probably because they started with a lot of comfort with ratings and reviews on their sites. Marketing-driven and fan-centric industries like consumer packaged goods and media are also very advanced. Regulated industries like pharmaceuticals and financial services are typically less mature, just since they can’t get a lot of applications off the ground without talking to lawyers a lot.

B2B businesses have a great opportunity, because their customers form natural communities. Some tech vendors, like IBM and Cisco, are pretty far along. Most of the big consulting firms are good at internal social applications, since sharing knowledge is so much a part of what they do. But in general, B2B  companies are far less adventurous, and it’s a shame.

After the Groundswell.

Charlene and Josh collaborated on the original Groundswell and each wrote followup books. Charlene wrote Open Leadership. Josh wrote Empowered; here’s what I asked him about the sequel.

You wrote a book after Groundswell, Empowered. How do those work together?

Once we wrote Groundswell and I started traveling around to companies, it became clear that knowing what to do was only half the problem. How to get ideas past management was the other. Empowered is a book about how to manage your company in the age of the empowered customer – the problem that arises as a result of all those social customers. I find it interesting that Charlene Li, on her own, also wrote an excellent management book called Open Leadership about many of the same challenges.

Who’s the better co-author: Charlene or Ted?

That’s like asking which of my children I like better. Charlene has such an incredible instinct about social technology, and that, combined with her infinite degree of patience, made her a real pleasure to work with. Ted’s knowledge of how IT and management worked and the scintillating collection of ideas he brought to the project made for one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. Both were highly creative, flexible, and understood well what I brought to the team. A collaboration on a book is like a marriage – you have to respect the other person, and you have to tolerate their quirks and hope they tolerate yours as you work closely together on something that matters. Both of my coauthors gave me that kind of intimate sharing of ideas, and I respect and love them both (equally!).

What do you know now that you wish was in the original version of Groundswell?

Much of that is in Empowered, the stuff about management. I wish we had more about Twitter (which is why we added that in the new edition). I really wish we had a lot more international examples, but as I learned in Empowered, it’s very, very hard to source those, especially ones from Asia.


Many thanks to Josh for sharing these insights. For updates on Groundswell and Empowered, visit Forrester’s blog.

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