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April 04, 2009

A year of groundswell -- and 80 groundswell speeches

by Josh Bernoff

Cover As we come up on a full year since Groundswell was published, I wanted to reflect on what we did and how it feels.

Groundswell was published in April of 2008, after four months of intense thinking, seven months of intense research and writing, and five months of wending its way through the apparatus of publishing. It was not an instant hit, but it did build nicely in the months after its release, reaching #120 on Amazon at one point and poking its way into the Business Week bestseller list last summer. And it's still selling pretty well; in fact it's been picking up in the last few weeks. Over 60,000 copies have been sold.

Groundswell was more successful than 95% of business books, but didn't quite make it into the Cluetrain / Long Tail / Tipping Point / Freakonomics pantheon of household names. If you want a baseball analogy, we made it to the majors but not the hall of fame. Charlene and I, and Forrester, are quite pleased with the results -- first because we created a quality piece of work, and second because it has accomplished our goals of getting the ideas out into the world in a structured form where people could see and use them.

But what really gets me jazzed is that we've actually made an impact on so many companies. I am by far not the only one doing Groundswell work -- Charlene did a bunch until she left Forrester last summer, and 15 of my colleagues at Forrester are also doing this work for a variety of clients now. Still, as the remaining Groundswell author at Forrester, I get plenty of speech requests. I have done 80 groundswell speeches so far. I can remember every single one, from the PR people in Vegas to the hospital CEOs in New Orleans.

You might think I would get bored, but this is the most energizing thing I've ever done.

Every speech is different. I have done speeches on innovation with the groundswell, on listening, on marketing, and on support. I've talked about the groundswell in retail, in financial services, in high-tech, in non-profits and pharmaceuticals. I've showcased it in Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Brussels, Madrid, London, Toronto, and Warsaw, Indiana. I've hit Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, and Miami, and everywhere in the middle.

I generate new data for nearly every speech, and typically pull from our stock of over 150 examples. But the real reason the speech is different every time is the people hearing it. Speaking is not a one-way communication, at least not the way I try to do it. Sometimes the audience is senior executives, sometimes it's college students, and often it's everything inbetween. But I see people get that sparkle in their eyes -- they get it -- and then they ask questions that keep me thinking.

Our timing with Groundswell was excellent, and as a result the demand has not slackened, even in this recession. To all my clients and audiences: I love you all. You make all the travel worth it. I want to write books and spread ideas for the rest of my life. Thank you for making that possible.

Here's a breakdown for you quant geeks.

  • I gave 12 Webinars or teleconferences plus 68 speeches in person, in 27 different cities. (And boy are my arms tired!) I gave 14 speeches in New York, 10 in Boston (cheaper, no travel), 6 in Atlanta and 5 in Seattle. I gave two in Wisconsin, in two different cities. The largest DMA I have not hit is Washington, and that's coming up soon.I have had a lot of travel misery, but I am proud to say that I have never missed a speech due to travel delays.
  • Of the groundswell speeches, 51 were for our clients, including 15 workshops and 11 vendor-sponsored events for clients of agencies or vendors. 29 were speeches at public events, including 7 Forrester events. Of these, I like the workshops the best, because people get to actually turn the ideas to benefits for their own businesses.
  • I did 18 groundswell speeches before the book was published, then 36 in the first six months after it was published, and another 26 in the following six months. While the book promotion speeches have slowed down a lot, the client speeches are picking up.
  • Every industry is interested in the groundswell. My biggest verticals for these speeches are high-tech, with 13 speeches, and media and financial services, with 6 each. But I have also spoken to companies that make medical devices, beer companies, and retailers. For some reason these things ebb and flow -- I just got done with several insurance company speeches, and now I'm doing several for non-profits.

This is fun, but we're just getting started. See you in the groundswell.


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and we are supposed to what with this info?

Kare Anderson

What are some of your favorite stories/examples of how individuals or firms have done something as a consequence of reading groundswell

Josh Bernoff

@blakef I thought you all might find some value in seeing the spread of groundswell and how we keep the ideas fresh. 'Sonly my life's work.

@Kare Good question. Clients have mostly insisted we keep their identities hidden but it's time to go back to a few and get 'em to open up. These things, regrettably, usually take companies months even after they decide to do them.

Graeme Thickins

Josh, have you spoken in the Twin Cities yet? With our concentration our Fortune 500 headquarters, I suspect so -- but we're always up for more!

Your colleague Jeremiah Owyang is visiting Minneapolis this coming week.

best regards,

David Meerman Scott

Josh, Congrats to you and Charlene for doing a great book. I've enjoyed watching the progress. It's interesting that my books and yours are frequently mentioned together. What I've noticed is that I've sold more books in the year since Groundswell has been out compared to the prior year. Interesting that I think rather than "compete" our books compliment one another.

I hope to meet you on the circuit one day. I ran into Charlene at SXSW a few weeks ago.

Josh Bernoff

@David I agree, people tend to buy these book in bunches. I'll probably meet you at an event, if not in an airport.

Drop by when you're in Boston (but check first, I could be anywhere).

Tsahi Levent-Levi

Your book have made a lot more than an impact. I am now on the path of utilizing it in my company, with the blessings of my GM, and open a community site for our customers.
It is a lot due to your book, which I found the best so far in terms of "social media" and the business world.

Anja Patulski

Just recommended the book at my works internal blog. I love it, and has only just started reading it. Will get back to this blog - and page as I have to see, the things you mention in the book :)

Charles Sipe

Loved the book because it provided concrete examples of how business can work with the groundswell to be more effective. The rules have changed and smart companies will embrace the groundswell to better understand and serve the customer.


I just finished Groundswell and dug around in my own data. I am unable to create unique categories of people, or tiers of involvement that are discussed in the book. They don't factor out as unique groups. Makes a nice scale of involvement, but no unique groups. Did you use factor analysis to create the groups, or theoretically create groups (creators, critics, collectors, etc.)? Please share.

Josh Bernoff

@dm The groups are not a segmentation, which is why they are not mutually exclusive. I did the same sort of analysis you did and concluded a segmentation was not appropriate.

If you want to follow up with me on this, email me.

Robin Bordoli

Congrats on the 1 year anniversary and making it to the "major leagues"

We haven't met (yet) but I am the CEO of HeadMix which is the new platform for Blue Shirt Nation which you featured as one of your case studies in Groundswell

Have you thought about the challenge of Twitter to Outlook? I have given the presentation "Outlook vs Twitter: who wins the war inside the enterprise?" (http://bit.ly/3ueiMq) which is deliberately provocative.

Do you think Twitter presents a real threat to internal corporate communications?

Mark Tilghman

First I want to say that I really appreciate your book, Groundswell. It was a great read. Your insights provide a very helpful look into the changing landscape of media.

New media is emerging, and this has been a constant emergence over decades. Cable television, satellite radio and television, online search, social networks, even word of mouth marketing efforts. Many new media are gaining ground both in and outside the online environment. And we may certainly see a total convergence of media eventually. But I would like to challenge your characterization of mainstream advertising as “shouting.” Shouting is a sensational word. It evokes an immediate feeling of wrongness. And to use it the way you do, I believe, minimizes your message. It’s like an elementary school tactic of belittling someone else to make yourself look better.

As I consider national advertising, there are few ads that can be characterized as shouting. (Much local advertising, of course, is another story.) Hyundai’s current campaign quietly tells the story of their great offer to take the car back that they’ve sold to you in the event that you lose your job. What a wonderful and creative offer! Apple’s ads are so entertaining, I consider those 30 second ads to be some of the best programming on television. Just last week after the NCAA tournament my entire office talked about ads from Burger King and Heineken (and went online to view them again and share them with others, an exercise that took place in offices all over the nation). None of these ads “shout.” These ads do what all great advertising does, they raise awareness and communicate product offerings and benefits in a memorable way.

In fact, as I consider the idea of “shouting” in advertising I can think of two examples where the shouting actually works. We all know the American car companies are in bad shape. But the one area where they maintain dominant market share is in the pick up truck category. And those ads may appropriately be categorized as testosterone-fueled shouting. But the ads only mirror the content in which they appear where sports announcers do the same. So they just might be appropriate. OxyClean has built a brand with shouting. And while I don’t prefer or enjoy their advertising, neither you nor I can deny its massive effectiveness. OxyClean has successfully built a super brand over the past several years by literally shouting at us the benefits of using their products.

A problem with much of the rationale supporting new media advertising trends is the assertion that all is new. The idea of targeting is not new. The notion of communicating appropriately and differently in different media delivery options is not new. Messaging online is appropriately different than in a newspaper or a magazine or in a broadcast vehicle like radio or television or in event marketing on-site. Right or wrong is primarily determined by the effectiveness of the campaign.

I love the emergence of new media. And I embrace it. True convergence is coming. As we address this important evolution, I challenge us all to speak accurately about the effectiveness of all media when used appropriately. Our clients depend on us to make sense of this crazy media landscape with them and to use it to grow their businesses. Words are important. And sensationalism will not help us toward the goal of generating effective advertising campaigns for our clients and friends. And that is the reminder to us all. Our goal is to generate results for our clients, not merely to embrace new media options. Results are garnered through smart media choices (especially since our choices keep growing) and appropriate messaging within those media types.

All that said, I appreciate many of your keen insights. It is required reading for my staff, right alongside Andrew Keen’s book on internet trends, “The Cult of the Amateur.” Thank you for sharing your thinking with us.

In the groundswell with you,

Mark Tilghman
President, Joseph David Advertising


Thanks Josh! Having trouble finding your email. Following you on Twitter now though. My company is a Forrester client, so will try to find you through this too.

Marcy Cohen

Groundswell has been a guiding force in all that we do and we at Sony are proud to be in the opening paragraph! I have recommended this book at many seminars and panels I've done. It's invaluable to any social media marketer. And thanks for all of your support and advice. Congrats on 1 year.


Hello Josh
Thanks a lot for so valuable information you have provided in your book. It actually has changed my company business model. I have an Internet based firm that provides tactics and content for big companies in my country (Colombia) by using web 2.0 tools. I would really appreciate if you can help me with this: is there any tool, software, website you can recommend me for monitoring how people are talking about an specific brand or company within social media? Or in other words, is any starting point or a step-by-step process to do that monitoring? Thanks a lot


Courtney Hunt

Josh - I have been a social media devotee for about the past year and have been studying it fairly intently for the last couple of months. Forrester's name has come up often as a source of info/expertise. I will buy Groundswell soon; however, I am more interested in the intra-organizational applications of social media, esp. for internal communications and HR. Has Forrester done much research in that area yet? I've looked on the website but I want to make sure I don't miss anything. Thanks. Courtney

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