The world is radically changing: Print media is suffering, online video is displacing what’s left of broadcast television, and while radio listenership is up, niche marketing is narrowing any given station’s appeal. The days of one-way, broad-sweep communication are over and the “Groundswell” is here to stay. The collision of people, technology and economics, authors Li and Bernoff say, has revolutionized the formerly one-way business-to-consumer communication process into an infinitely linkable, incredibly powerful multi-way dialog.
Groundswell looks at the way people are using social media tools, such as blogging, Facebook, YouTube, etc., to empower each other rather than relying on the traditional hierarchy of advertising and public relations within institutions and organizations. In other words, the power of the crowd is being tapped and then listened to as a source of credible, authoritative information on a given topic or cause.
Li and Bernoff lay out some ground rules on how corporations and organizations might best participate in this emerging, undeniable phenomenon. First, they suggest profiling your audience or customer base by performing a social technographics profile. While they offer a few names of companies that can perform this service for you, spending the time and energy to search the blogosphere for conversations related to your particular interest will garner similar results at a much lower cost.
The strategies for “tapping the groundswell” include a four-step “POST” process, according to Li and Bernoff. The process involves people, objectives, strategy and technology. You must figure out who the thought leaders are and where the dialogs are taking place. Once you listen to and talk with your audience, you can begin to energize, support and embrace your base.
Li and Bernoff present several examples of how forward thinking individuals have embraced social media as a way to garner good public relations for their organizations. On a tour of his company Blendtec, a new marketing manager saw engineers testing blenders by grinding up wooden two-by-fours, creating a spectacle of sawdust. His incredulous eyes had the foresight to realize that others might enjoy witnessing such an unusual use of the product. A Youtube sensation was born. One has to laugh in amazement at the story of WillitBlend?
Ernst & Young used Facebook to begin conversations with college students who might be suited to their corporation. EBags, an online luggage company, successfully energized its biggest fans by “turning them into word of mouth machines.” By allowing and encouraging ratings and reviews of its products through email follow-ups to purchasers, the company was able to tap into the zeitgeist of business and vacation travelers alike. I know that when I’m looking at products online, I read customer reviews with great interest and give them a great deal of weight in my decision making process. So this strategy of emailing recent customers for reviews, and then sharing them to enlarge the dialog, is an excellent use of social networking.
Building community forums is another strategy that uses social media to create communities that energize, support and embrace. And like blogs, viral videos and other social media, the voice is stronger when it emerges from the crowd, rather than being force-fed from above. In the crowded media mélange, only a strong, clear, authentic voice will have the authenticity and attractiveness to be of value in the groundswell.