Groundswell: what's in a name?
I continue to be amazed that people are still finding Groundswell relevant, two years after we published it in April of 2008.
I've watched in delight as people have adopted the name as we intended -- to refer to the whole constellation of social technology phenomena, from Amazon reviews to YouTube. A twitter search on "groundswell" reveals people still discovering it, debating it, and just internalizing it as a word in the social context. Groundswell is also now pretty well established as a term for an uprising attended by social phenomena, for example, a groundswell of outrage or a groundswell of support. Cool.
Even as I watch this, I know there are uses of the word that would get a reaction from me and my employer, Forrester Research. For example, if you tried to publish a book called "Groundswell, Part Deux," you'd hear from us. And if you created a "Groundswell strategy workshop" we'd certainly have to talk. Why? Because you would be confusing people, purporting to deliver on intellectual property that we own.
One person you'd think would be tempted is Charlene Li, since she wrote the book with me. But the copyright belongs to Forrester Research, and Charlene is both smart and reasonable. She is certainly prominent in the social media world, but after leaving Forrester she never promoted herself with the word Groundswell, beyond identifying herself as coauthor, and she is building her own intellectual property.
I'm writing about this because I'm very interested in your reaction to something that happened recently around the word Groundswell. IIR is putting on an event this week in Boston, called "Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies." The people running the show invited Charlene, and started billing her talk as "What is the next Groundswell?" They also invited three past winners of the Forrester Groundswell Awards to take part in a main-stage panel. Check the Web site: Groundswell is a significant part of the promotion of this event, and they never asked our permission for that.
I volunteered to moderate the panel of award winners, which I'm doing. I feel very close to the people who have won the awards, having participated in the judging, and I feel I can do a good job of helping them to reveal what has made them special.
But I remain ambivalent about the outright use of Groundswell to promote this event, which we do not sponsor or participate in beyond my appearance. I thought a nice solution would be to ask them to help me out with a free event ticket for a colleague as a favor in return, but they were steadfast that they wouldn't do that. Apparently what we own, they can use, but what they own, they won't share.
So I put it to you, gentle readers. What's the right response? Embrace it as free promotion? Draw a line in the sand and say "don't step over this or you'll have to deal with us?" With the rampant borrowing and repurposing of content online, this is a real issue, not just for us, but for any company that owns any kind of brand or media. I'm very curious about your perspective on it.