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Book Review: Groundswell – Chapters 1 to 5

In May, my husband Frank and I enrolled ourselves into the online Social Media Marketing course offered by Toronto’s George Brown College. Part of the course is to read a book on social media and do a book report on it. I decided to review Groundswell: Winning in the World Transformed by Social Technologies by Forrester Research executives Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.

Although a bit out-of-date when it comes to the technical aspects of social media and new tools/apps that are in use today (e.g. Snapchat), the book so far (I’ve read approximately five chapters), is still a good read anybody who wants to understand how this new form of marketing has become so relevant for brands and organizations today, or to refresh their thinking about this discipline.

Li and Bernoff point out that brands and organizations that have put their head in the sand can’t ignore the successes of  competitors and other organizations who have successfully tapped into online conversations and storytelling with interested consumers and those potentially interested in them.

After all, according to Li and Bernoff, social media has given power to the people on a much broader scale than word-of-mouth. From forums to Twitter, people have the power to share their thoughts and opinions (good and bad) about any given said topic.

What is this new social media thing?

Back in 2007, social media was still a foreign concept to many brand and marketing managers. Fast-forward to 2014 and it’s the bright, shiny apple that is enthralling marketers and attracting budgets that detract from traditional print and broadcast advertising activities.

Seven years ago social media was a feared thing, with marketers worried that they were losing the power to control the message. This quote from the book clearly paints the picture:

The groundswell trend is unstoppable, and your customers are there. You may go a little slower or a little faster, but you have to move forward. There is no going back. We will leave you with this: there is no one “right way” to engage with the groundswell.

Social Media Marketing Strategies

The authors discuss the need to engage with consumers/customers via various technologies that are the right fit for your brand or company. I’ve started to delve into the chapter on listening as a key strategy to better understand what customers/brand followers are looking for from your business, products etc.

I’ve always suggested listening exercises to my clients as a means of going beyond the focus group or what can potentially be a biased survey. Numbers don’t tell the full story and there are so many nuances as to why a consumer may like your product A and B, but not C so much. You may also think that just because consumers in XY demographic are buying your product that you should focus on them, when in fact, all consumer in T demographic might just need a bit of education from you to be inspired to purchase. You don’t get this from surveys so easily but perhaps you can gain this insight from a Tweet, a Facebook post on your fan page, or maybe even a forum. This is something that’s addressed in the chapter on Listening.

Getting past the very dry case study and examples based in the Tapping into the Groundswell: Listening to the Groundswell chapters, you can see that “your brand is what your customers say it is”. Unless you truly know what consumers/customers are saying about your brand aligns to the experience they are having with it, no matter what you say, they will not believe it. The experience needs to align with your story.

The authors have used a great example that is true for any business these days: brand theorist, Ricardo Guimaraes, the founder of Thymus Branding in Sao Paulo Brazil has provided this approach to thinking – brands belong to customers, not companies. His words:

The value of a brand belongs to the market, and not to the company. The company in this sense is a tool to create value for the brand… Brand in this sense – it lives outside the company, not in the company. When I say that the management is not prepared for dealing with the brand, it is because in their mind-set they are managing a closed structure that is the company. The brand is an open structure – they don’t know how to manage an open structure.

Listening Strategies & Why They Are Important

The authors point out there are many ways to listen – some include setting up your own community to listen to what people are saying on any given topic, or to tap into brand monitoring provided by companies. Then there’s the simple method of Googling your product name along with the word sucks or awesome. You will inevitably find something that speaks to a review or commentary.

Taking the information from listening exercises and using them to adapt your services, products and your marketing strategy is the next step to better serving your customer/target consumer.

A Good Review for Marketers Today

So far, this book has been a good review of what I’ve already learned on-the-job in my day-to-day work in public relations. It also has a few insights that we sometimes don’t think about, and it makes me also think about how far social media has come as part of the marketing mix.

So far, I’m seeing this as a good introduction for anybody in the C-Suite who is not familiar with social media, and who wants to understand why it’s important to include it as part of the communications and marketing strategy.

Check future posts, as I continue to review Groundswell, as I read further on social media strategies.

 

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