Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff’s “Groundswell” – Ch. 7-12

            In the second half of Groundswell, Li & Bernoff continue explaining the rest of the strategies for groundswell engagement (energizing, supporting, and embracing), and finish off with a discussion of the effects of groundswell engagement on a company, how to implement it within a company, and the future of the groundswell.

            The third possible objective for groundswell engagement is energizing, which equates most closely with a traditional organization’s sales function but, again, has a much more impactful effect than basic sales.  Here the authors discussed three major approaches along with examples of each – 1) tapping into customer enthusiasm with ratings and reviews (good for retailers and others with direct customers, like the example of eBags), 2) creating a community to energize your customers (best if your customers have a common passion for your product and an affinity for each other, as with Constant Contact), and 3) participating in and energizing [already-existing] communities of your brand enthusiasts (like Lego).  Energized customers can often become like “unpaid R&D partners,” but be prepared to keep this relationship a 2-way one – they will expect to be listened to and responded to when appropriate.

            The fourth of the five groundswell engagement objectives is supporting, with corresponds directly to the normal customer support function, a normally quite expensive cost that can be significantly reduced when carried out using the groundswell (based on the fact that customers are often very willing and able to help other customers without any direct company intervention).  Three different specific approaches are highlighted in the book: 1) support forums (Dell, Linksys, CBS and its Jericho fans), 2) wikis (MIKE2.0 at Bearing Point, taxalmanac.com at Intuit, and ebaywiki.com at eBay), and 3) questions and answers (Naver and Yahoo!Answers).  The important tips mentioned for successfully supporting are: i) start small but plan for a larger presence, ii) reach out to your most active customers, iii) plan to drive traffic to your community (at least to get it started), and iv) build in a reputation system.  Again, be prepared for this to be a dialogue from which you can gain valuable insights for the company (at little to no cost).

            The last strategy discussed for groundswell engagement is embracing, similar to the typical corporate function of development, but accelerated by integrally involving all of your customers’ expertise into your development process (for both products and processes).  Three examples are recounted, including product development innovation by way of customer community involvement (Salesforce.com and Dell), process improvement from “crowdsourced” customer suggestions (Crédit Mutuel), and product improvements based on constant customer feedback (Loblaw grocery stores).  Embracing requires humility and transparency on the part of the implementing company but can reap significant rewards in return for the effort.

            Li and Bernoff go on to present case studies of Unilever and Dell to highlight the way that engaging with the groundswell, while often a slow, deliberate, and sometimes frustrating process which requires executive support and leadership, can help a company by making employees at all levels feel more engaged with their customer base.   Likewise, case studies on Best Buy, Avenue A/Razorfish, and Bell Canada were held up as examples of how engaging with the groundswell can be done internally to build much stronger employee relations in the same way that it can be implemented externally with customers.  They close with general tips on how broadly to engage with the groundswell: 

  • The groundswell is about person-to-person relationships, so be ready to engage with people.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be patient.
  • Be opportunistic.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be collaborative.
  • Be humble. 

The lessons of Groundswell may be particularly beneficial in the current economic climate that businesses and consumers alike are facing.  The use of “social media marketing” is growing, and a recent article discussed its importance for retaining current customers at a time when finding new ones is exceedingly difficult.

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