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April 02, 2007

The five reasons companies should participate in the Groundswell

by Josh Bernoff

Forrester's corporate clients approach us all the time to ask "Should I do a blog?" or "Should I start a community?" or other similar questions.

Wrong questions. Or at least the wrong place to start.

The corporate world has slowly gone from unware to fearful to, now, curious about how to engage with social networks, what to do about user generated media, how to participate in the blogosphere, and so on. Thanks to books like Citizen Marketers and The Cluetrain Mainfesto awareness is rising. What's still missing, in general, is the why.

Why are you interested in participating? What are your actual goals?

It's in this spirt that I modestly offer this framework: five reasons to participate in the groundswell. These are the five basic objectives a company or other organization can hope to accomplish in the social world. You should pick one or two, then choose your tools and strategies accordingly.

  1. LISTENING. Finding out what your customers are really saying. Best tools are brand monitoring, private communities like Communispace, ratings/reviews.

  2. SPEAKING. Connecting with your customers in new ways, extending PR and marketing. Best tools are blogs, podcasts, participation in MySpace/YouTube and other user-generated media.
  3. ENERGIZING. Getting your best customers to evangelize your products. Best tools are public communities and ratings/reviews.

  4. SUPPORTING. Helping customers solve their own and each other's problems. Best tools are blogs, forums, wikis.

  5. EMBRACING. Working with your customers to make products better. Best tools are communities, user-generated media.

This may seem very basic to the sophisticates out there in the Web 2.0 community. But I think it's actually the tonic companies need to discipline their thinking about what the heck they're doing in this space.

We're planning on using this to structure the prescriptive portions of the book -- one chapter on each of these objectives, with case studies from companies that are doing it.

I'm very interested in your reaction. I'm looking forward to your comments on our framework. And if your company is pursuing these objectives successfully, we'd love to feature you.

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Tanya Henders

Hmmm, maybe you should elaborate on what types of metrics tools you are using to measure media. Tools like Scope @ divinityassets.com are Metrics 2.0. Perhaps you should highlight those.

Tina Lang-Stuart

You might want to add virtual worlds such as Second Life to 'energizing' and 'embracing' as well as 'listening'.

Lots of social media tools actually don't just fall into one of your mentioned categories - and a company's reason to enter the social mediasphere is also often manifold.

This list is good, however, as it offers a quick summary of what companies can accomplish by using the new tools and technologies.

Justin Cooper

Josh, I think that the framework is starting to take shape here. In fact, some of the most innovative brands in the world (from Coca-Cola to MySpace and ABC to Sara Lee) are realizing all of these objectives along with the inherent benefits of each through one contained environment provided by Passenger http://www.thinkpassenger.com , which provides a platform for easy deployment of private brand communities that provide best-in-class community and collaboration components. Once a brand has committed to this new consumer relationship, there is an ongoing collaborative spirit that facilitates rich dialogue, actionable insight, high levels of participation and most importantly a vibrant community composed of consumers who feel empowered through the ownership of ideas. Web 2.0 is here and for those brands who feel that a direct dialogue with their most valued customer segments is too strategic a function to be outsourced, will be searching for a tool that they can use to manage this critical relationship on their own.

Helen Nowicka

I thought this was a useful framework. I work in on- and offline PR in the UK where brands are at very different stages of willingness to engage with consumers via social media. Some are doing so effectively, often because there's an internal new media advocate driving the agenda. The majority are still quite tentative, and so a succinct rationale about the "why" helps demonstrate the strategic benefits more clearly.

Mark Johnson

Listening (in addition to being similar to "Embracing) should be the meta-theme to all of the other components: if you're not engaging in community to listen better to your customers, then why are you bothering?

Speaking is good, but it's not a goal in itself. Engaging in the conversation is important. "Press releases" are a form of speaking, but not one that is engaging and personal.

Energizing is also about building solutions that help users and help you to promote your product, e.g. widgets. Of course, these widgets have to help the user (not just help you)

I love frameworks like this. I'm interested to see how it turns out after this post. [you're engaging with your potential customers to improve your product. COOL!]

Josh Bernoff

Very interesting comments, Mark.

I find that these things all do bleed into one another. And I agree that listening is important no matter what you do.

That said, I find that the confusion among our clients in what their objectives are is the key problem to solve. Better they should start with energizing and move on to embracing once they figure out it's a good idea, for example.

Gert Paczynski

Really interesting aspects. They get a special scope when you consider the german market. In Germany these aspects would be considered as very competitive and client focused. But german executives are always more worried than exited by the possible chances. So to hint at these basical aspects one focuses the attention of the clients to theire main business they often understand much better than the web.

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