The Groundswell rises again

The update.

Forrester Research releases an update today to Groundswell, which continues to serve many marketers as a how-to guide for thinking through social business. Groundswell is now available in paperback and contains two new chapters: “tapping the groundswell with twitter” and “attaining social maturity.”

Josh Bernoff

I was an analyst at Forrester when the book was originally published; since then, I’ve been thinking about social business from a different point of view. A few years have passed and we’ve all seen the “social” industry evolve, so to find out more about the updates, I asked Groundswell co-author, mentor, and former colleague Josh Bernoff some questions about the updates.

Q: Business books run the risk of becoming outdated before they get from concept to print. Yet Groundswell has retained its relevance after three years in print. Why?

Charlene and I worried a lot about the longevity of the book when we were writing it. As a result, we concentrated on the themes a lot more – like focusing on objectives, and starting with relationships – and not so much on the specific technology details which change so quickly. (This is how any good marketer ought to think, anyway.) This is one reason Groundswell is still relevant three years later while a book on, say, MySpace, seems very dated. The other reason is we concentrated on stories about consumers and businesspeople, and stories don’t become obsolete the way technology advice does.

Q: What is the best story you’ve heard of Groundswell’s impact on a company or business professional?

I am still hearing, years later, about people who had this “aha!” moment on reading the book and finally got some traction with their management to start developing social applications. I knew we had a hit on our hands when I ran my first workshop with a major financial services company and saw how, with a little encouragement and a framework, they did so well at coming up with imaginative applications. But my favorite is still probably AFLAC, because the CIO Gerald Shields brought us in, we ran a workshop, and they came up with ideas like a independent sales rep community and a community for payroll administrators. What I loved about that engagement was, they brought us in again several months later and pitched me with their ideas – and I’d seen how well they had developed them.

I have to give honorable mention to the work with did with Wal-Mart, because I got to see the most senior executives from the world’s biggest company (including a table full of lawyers) grapple with the ideas.

The paperback edition of Groundswell is available today, with two new chapters on Twitter strategy and “social maturity.” How did you select these two topics for greater exploration?

It was easy. These were the two types of questions we got most frequently. Twitter was brand new when Groundswell came out, so we didn’t talk about it much beyond predicting that it would be successful (got that right!). And the question of how companies develop as they approach social became a lot more visible as we got further into the corporate embrace of social applications. This happened just as my colleague Sean Corcoran wrote a great report on the topic, so I adapted that for the Social Maturity chapter.

Regarding Twitter.

The new chapter on “tapping the groundswell with twitter” provides a straightforward outline on how to use the service and great advice in line with Twitter’s own recommendations for business. The opportunity is obvious when you see the statistics: Twitter users are highly active and influential.

The Social Technographics Profile of tweeters


Among the best practice examples Bernoff provides, three stand out to me based on challenges I see my clients facing today:

  • AT&T: using Twitter in a regulated industry as a very large (266,590 employees) organization
  • McDonalds: solving for corporate vs. local engagement
  • TurboTax: dealing with highly time-intensive issues. (Dachis Group helped establish this program; for more details, read this case study.)

My questions for Josh regarding new new Twitter chapter:

You mention ways that Twitter can be used for Groundswell objectives – listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing. All of these are useful to companies, but they don’t make Twitter any money. How does use of Twitter’s advertising options (promoted tweets, accounts, and trends) fit in to the framework, if at all?

I find it interesting that a successful Twitter ad has to be inherently shareable, so Twitter advertising strategy ends up as an extension of Twitter marketing strategy in general. It’s part of the intersection between advertising and social, which works best when the advertising is something people want to share (like the Evian Babies video).

In 140 characters or less, can you explain the value of tapping the Groundswell with Twitter? (and perhaps why Twitter wasn’t Facebook or FourSquare instead?)

People use Twitter for everything, because it’s so lightweight. They want to talk to you. Listen! Respond! (It’s easier than Facebook.)


Tomorrow, I’ll focus on the new social maturity framework and what’s after Groundswell.

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