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March 13, 2008

Where are you on the Purist-Corporatist scale?

by Josh Bernoff

My post on Purists and Corporatists kicked up some dust. WOMMA put it on their list of stuff to read. And Shel Israel explained that he's not a purist, he works with companies. But I still think there's some difference between his position and mine. While Shel agrees with me that there are two camps, he appears to see them as the authentic types and those who are going to force marketing messages down our throats.

But this is my platform, and while I want to be part of the dialogue, I'll define my terms my way. Right now I want to see where my readers come down.

In the continuum below, the groundswell I refer to consists of ALL social applications -- not just blogs, but wikis, user-generated video and audio, social networks, ratings and reviews, twitter -- any application that allows people to connect and draw strength from each other.


10 = The groundswell is such a powerful force, the people in it will always prevail. All companies can do is watch and listen. Their employees can participate, but only as independent people. Corporate efforts are doomed to fail.

9 =

8 =

7 = The groundswell is powerful, but companies have a role in it. Groups of people inside of enterprises can get together and make themselves heard. Even so, the groundswell will always prevail over their interests.

6 =

5 = Companies belong in the groundswell. They have interests just as the people do. They will set up corporate efforts -- presences in places like Facebook or their own corporate blogs -- and connect with their customers. They can't shut down or co-opt people in the groundswell, but they can form meaningful relationships with them. And they can accomplish goals like marketing or collaborative innovation, if they respect that they're not in charge.

4 =

3 =

2 = Corporations and other major institutions are powerful and will always be powerful. This so-called "groundswell" is similar to any other medium -- people are there consuming it, and corporations can reach them within that medium. Flare-ups of negative publicity can be contained or at least "handled" so they cause minimal damage.

1 =

0 = Corporations have power because they have money. This groundswell thing is a flash in the pan and it doesn't matter. If it gets too far out of hand we'll buy it and make sure we control it.


Sure, I've set up an arbitrary continuum, but it reflects the range of opinions I'm seeing out there. Now it's your turn. Please comment. In your comment, please tell me:

What number on the continuum best describes your attitude?
What number best describes your boss' attitude?
What do you estimate is the average attitude among businesspeople you know?


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Susan Burns

I really like how you've framed this Josh.

(1) My personal feelings are a 6. The main question of doubt I have is whether or not corporations can do this authentically. If they try to control it they are doomed. So, your last line above in #5 is critical. Can they do it with respect. But, I am an idealist and see the potential of companies getting behind this to improve talent attraction, engagement and how innovation is reimagined.

(2) I don't currently have a boss - YEAH, but if I think about my last two they would probably be about a 4 with the main questions being the pace of change and how long it would take the corporation to get "comfortable" with an open environment. Also, in a public company there would be an assumption of risk - although I wonder if they realize there is actually more risk in not being open because the groundswell will move along without them.

(3) I recently presented on Social to a group of about 50 companies and the feeling across the board was twofold - there was fear and they felt overwhelmed. These were all public companies so that is where the fear comes from. Again, they don't yet realize this is moving along with or without them so how fear is being internalized is in part coming from being uninformed and/or uncertain of what is happening with Social. With regards to being overwhelmed - this is primarily a resource issue (these were mostly HR/Recruiting execs) and the absence of integration with corp/employment branding initiatives and support to develop and deliver a holistic solution is absent. Lastly, I think it comes in part from simply being overwhelmed with the pace of advancement of Social and the time it takes for companies to grasp the tools and develop a solution. In time I believe we will see a reallocation or marketing resources and the identification of a Social Brand/Relationship Strategist.

Victor Lund

Great Question.

I am a 7, our partners are 5s and 7s, many in our industry are 5s.

I am working on a monograph that summarizes Twitter for the real estate industry.

Twitter makes sense if you are in the real estate technology (share your daily conquests with your peers), it makes sense for brokers (communicate to a distributed agent population) and it makes sense for real estate teams (keep track of locations and task management), but that is it.

The concept of an individual agent twittering about their new listings, open houses, mortgage rates changes, etc is simply not relevant in a one to many scenario for real time. That type of information should be 1 to 1 - realtor to client, not realtor to all clients.

I only bring this up because I believe that most industries need help understanding what social applications are best for their business and it what capacity should they be executed.

For real estate, Twitter does not appear to be a customer-centric tool - but Facebook and Myspace and others are.

David Berkowitz

I'm probably a 6 - I'm not convinced that 5 and 7 are mutually exclusive though, as I identify with both. I think companies can build relationships with the groundswell just as in general people have emotional attachments with their favorite brands. Yet I also think the groundswell will prevail when it's able to properly harness its energy.

Dan Dickinson

Me: 8; my boss: 5; most people I deal with through work: 4.

The last number is the one I see movement in every day...one at a time I'm seeing people who used to be 2 or 3 become a 4 or 5.

There's a whole other category of people though: those folks so unaware of any of this "social networking / workflow" stuff that they couldn't give you an informed opinion. First challenge is getting those people to admit this is a topic worth discussing; THEN you find out where they are on the scale.

Carter Lusher

Interesting scale. What might prove insightful is to do some research that starts assigning percentages to each level, tracking the changes over time.

Shama Hyder

I am a 5.

We forget-organizations (corporations, companies, etc.) are made up of people too!

Jen Harris

we are, as a whole, a 3 (personally, I am at least a 9).
The company is currently being educated on what a community is, what role it will play with our customers & learning that it is ok to "put yourself out there". Baby steps my friends.
There are some that are scared to death of this, but know that it is better to have conversations at "your house" where you can be a fly on the wall and take action, rather than find out later that you are "all over the web" and are getting devoured.
I am proud of our company in the last month. We have a long way to go, but I can feel the excitement & I can hear the anticipation and eagerness of people that want to participate.

Tom Humbarger

I'm a 5.5.

The people that I follow on Twitter are 7s and 8s (but the caveat is that most of them are active in the movement, blog and network extensively and/or work in the industry).

Does your scale need a 3rd dimension - i.e. those who don't or won't ever understand social media? Or who would never participate? Being so close to the trend, it may be hard to imagine people who don't get it - but social media is not like broadcast media, computers or cell phones in that it will never reach the same level of "ubiquitousness" (is that a word?).

Tom Humbarger
Catalyze Community
Community Manager


For me, it's all about context.

When I'm drinking [which is most of the time], I'm a 10.

When I'm at the client I'm a 5. Unless I had a little nip, and then I'm a 7.

Seriously, I was sooo glad when I linked to the post (from ol' Doc) to see that you didn't have a A/B situation, but a range of options. Smart.

Elliott Ng

Nice framing. I like @jowyang am at a FIVE - SEVEN or maybe a FOUR - SEVEN. I feel that the specific point in that range is driven by (a) timing - certain issues capture the imagination of a group of people, and especially online connectors, at some times vs. others, and (b) topic - certain topics are higher involvement or higher engagement than others. So companies can get involved and can shape the agenda as a group with unified purpose, strategies and tactics. I challenge the idea of the purists that only individuals can make a difference. Do they think that political parties and NGOs cannot act as entities with social media? Corporations are like political parties and NGOs in that they are trying to accomplish an objective and have the implicit or explicit support of their employees who could walk out the door and join another cause or company at will!

Jeremiah Owyang


I'm a 5-7.

Here's some what some folks said when I asked them in Twitter

jeannebreault jeannebreault @jowyang i'm 5-6, not quite 7

Chip Griffin chipgriffin @jowyang I'm a 5-3

olapersson olapersson @jowyang ditto, 5-7 sounds reasonable. 24 minutes ago from im in reply to jowyang

Joshua March joshuamarch @jowyang I'm 5-6 (groundwell continuum: http://snurl.com/21ua5)

Jeremy Lundberg - DLC Solutions

I would put myself at a 6. I fully appreciate the arguments that corporations must be willing to give up some degree of control and must be able to answer the question, "Why?" they want to successfully extend their businesses with social networking applications.

However, what I am not hearing is the importance of providing in-depth education with our clients and stakeholders about which single or combination technologies can accomplish particular strategic objectives (under ideal circumstances). Most of time, our clients would like to enhance the way they interact and support their customers, but don't know "how." I was surprised to see Charlene put a big red "X" over a slide that explained different types of technologies during a Webcast on social networking applications for businesses. She said that the real focus needed to be on the "Why?" But isn't answering that question only part of the equation? We spend a lot of time educating stakeholders about the strategic value of the different technologies available to them. And, in fact, we are developing a series of training programs for our health care clients on multiple aspects of social networking. As a former psychotherapist, people are only going to be willing to give up "control" when they feel they are well-informed.

Similarly, I do not deny that we will always see people and businesses that are not willing to change despite being presented with evidence to the contrary. However, I do wonder whether true "corporatist" are just people who have not received thoughtful education (from people like ourselves) about the various dimensions and benefits of corporate social networking and true "purists" are people who do not wish to be educators. Thoughts?

Great discussion. Thanks! Jeremy

Tim Tyler

I am definitely a 5, our team is a 5 and our clients are between 4 and 6.

The Marketing Science Institute recently published a research paper that may define what behaviour demonstrates a company's 'respect that they are not in charge'.

Porter & Donthu show that embeddedness (the feeling of being an insider) in a company's virtual community builds customer trust, makes customers more willing to share personal details and be loyal; http://www.msi.org/publications/publication.cfm?pub=1327

We all like to think we can make a difference. Collaborating with a company with resources and a willingness to listen to the crowd could let us make a difference we cannot achieve alone.

For companies the 'why' should be clear - treat customers with respect and they may just reward you with their ideas and loyalty.

Cheers, Tim

Mark Johnson

Dichotomies scare me! So I made an attempt at a 2D version of your scale on my blog. Maybe that will help to ease the tension between you and Shel?

Josh Bernoff

@Mark Johnson

I love Shel. Bloggers discuss and react -- it's what we do.

I like your scale, too.

Molly Metzger

I don't think every company can be a part of the groundswell. It depends on whether or not they have any kind of passion that matters to the rest of the world. Those with the most passion, that can (and are allowed to) have authentic conversations, will be able to have meaningful dialogue. This is really hard for most companies -- they will need to work really hard to be a 5. If companies have no passions to share, well, they'll continue to do business as usual or dip their toe in social media until they are simply irrelevant. I think these companies still believe in "5" but don't have any idea what to do about it.

Jonathan Trenn

While I'd put myself at a 5, it's becoming somewhat apparent that most of us responding are putting ourselves somewhere in the middle here.

Part of our reality is that the diversity of industries and hte players in them often make scales like this all relative. Some industries will be heavily laden with companies that are on the corporatist end, others on the purist end. And we have to remember, just as we have to encourage our clients to "listen", we also have to listen to our clients, as frustrating as that may be at times.

Many companies are and will be perfectly fine existing with a corporatist philosophy and will correctly view their customer base as just that - a customer base - and not as a community.

I see the challenge for us to be open minded enough to adopt to our clients needs on this scale, while maintaining our own sense of where we are on it.


* If forced to choose among the listed options, I'm a 5.

* I'm not sure the enumerations of the scale make it easy to choose. Or that it's actually a clear continuum. Though true enough, you did say, "Sure, I've set up an arbitrary continuum, but it reflects the range of opinions I'm seeing out there."

I find the characterization of 10 interesting: "The groundswell is such a powerful force, the people in it will always prevail....Corporate efforts are doomed to fail." These ideas are not mutually exclusive. Maybe they are from a strict perspective of "who won a communication war," but perhaps not from an end result perspective. For example, the people may "prevail" over the corporation, and yet still lose. That is, consider a message powerful enough to cause a corporation to change locations rather then be responsive to calls for whatever the goundswell wants. And what if that groundswell was just a vocal minority? After all, Surowiecki may have published "The Wisdom of Crowds" in 2005, but does that mean we need forget the lessons of 1995 when Chales Makay wrote of "Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds."

I think it's a defensible position that anyone not in the 3 - 7 range is probably dangerous to themselves and others. And not in a "cool, rebel, voice of the people" dangerous way. More in a potentially crappier outcome for everyone way.

Laibeus Lord

What number on the continuum best describes your attitude? = 8
What number best describes your boss or past bosses attitude? = 5
What do you estimate is the average attitude among businesspeople you know? = 3

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