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I received a copy of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s book Groundswell in March of 2008, while attending Forrester’s marketing conference in Los Angeles.  I finally got a chance to read it last week.  I must say that it is one of the two best books I have read on Web 2.0 and Social Computing.  The other, of course, is David Meerman Scott’s New Rules of PR and Marketing.  In my opinion, Groundswell is a book written for first for executives and secondarily for marketers, while the New Rules is a book written primarily for marketers and secondarily for executives.

Taking Pee out of a Swimming Pool

Chapter 1 was my favorite of the whole book.  Every C-level executive should read this chapter, even if they don’t have time for the remainder of the book.  It provides nearly irrefutable arguments about why any company cannot afford to ignore the transformational, groundswell effect that social computing is having on the world.  The authors offer great examples of how attempts to remove HD-DVD encryption codes and pictures of Barbara Streisand’s house from the Internet resulted in considerable backlash.  “You can’t take something off the Internet.  That’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool.”  Chapter 1 even discusses how fans influenced the development of Snakes on a Plane by creating a new quotation for Samuel L. Jackson’s character.  Unfortunately, there was no mention of the hilarious Cobra Starship video that was displayed during the movie’s ending credits.


Real World Case Studies

The book is full of rich, detailed case studies of how companies such as Best Buy, Intuit, Dell and have leveraged social computing for competitive advantage.  As a B2B marketing professional in the IT services sector, a few of the case studies I found most interesting included:

  • Greg the Architect – a humorous series of video clips and comic strips that target buyers of Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) platforms from TIBCO.
  • Idea Exchange –an online forum from that allows end-users to submit ideas for application features or enhancements.  The community can then vote on features influencing the actual product roadmaps for the application.
  • Blue Shirt Nation – a community of Best Buy employees throughout the US which share ideas about how to improve the customer experience, merchandise mix and store operations at the consumer electronics giant.


Social Technographics Ladder and Frameworks

Additionally, Li and Bernoff offer several useful frameworks for modeling your social computing initiatives.  Three of the frameworks that I found particularly useful were:

#1) A “Social Technographics Ladder” that provides an easy way to categorize end-users into one of six categories:

  • Creators
  • Critics
  • Collectors
  • Joiners
  • Spectators
  • Inactives

#2) Part Two of Groundswell is organized around another framework which identifies five primary objectives that companies can seek to gain from web 2.0 initiatives:

  • Listening
  • Talking
  • Energizing
  • Supporting
  • Embracing

#3) One of the top questions every executive asks is what the quantitative benefits and ROI to be gained from web 2.0 initiatives are.  Groundswell provides actual ROI analysis examples – something I have not seen anywhere else.  Sample ROI calculations are offered for executive blogging and developing an online community forum.

Also see my review of Groundswell on

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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