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The trouble with Groundswell

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff at industry analysts Forrester are bagging a lot of positive blog hype over their new book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. In my view the hype levels buzzing aeround the book make certain enterprise software claims seem tame.
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Written by Dennis Howlett on

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff at industry analysts Forrester are bagging a lot of positive blog hype over their new book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. In my view the hype levels buzzing aeround the book make certain enterprise software claims seem tame. This from David Berkowitz:

...is the best book on social media I've ever read, and it may be the best book ever written on the subject.

Or this from  B.L. Ochman:

I've read a few dozen books about Internet marketing, new media, blogging, etc. Many are well written. Some have flashes of brilliance. But Groundswell trumps all the new media marketing books written so far.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I don't gush. Rant yes, gush no. But I'm gushing about Groundswell.

No-one should be surprised because these positive comments reflect a world view with which these writers concur. And yes, I have seen examples of tools that allow marketers to more effectively engage retail customers. But they are relatively thin on the ground. Then I came across Des Walsh's analysis:

...I was a tad concerned by the following statement in the excerpt:

Technology, the second force driving the groundswell, has changed everything as far as people’s social interactions are concerned. For one thing, nearly everyone’s online - in 2006, that meant 73 percent of Americans and 64 percent of Europeans, for example. (Excerpt, p. 10)

“Nearly everyone”? Ahem, it’s not a lot more than 16% in China (growing certainly and the percentages for Beijing and Shanghai are higher, but still not as high as for North America, although approaching the European).

Yes, in the resources for reviewers, there are some tables which include consumer data from a wider group of countries including Japan and South Korea. What I looked for in vain so far is evidence of involvement at the corporate level in some of these “other” countries.

It may be that the data is not there, or not accessible. Perhaps the book spells that out.

Just hold that thought about corporations for a moment.

Des reckons that an un-named South African winery the Groundswell authors refer to is Stormhoek. I know this case well and Hugh MacLeod, the blogger behind it. Hugh came up with an inspired way of reworking the classic but normally non-scalable word of mouth marketing technique that combined Hugh's edgy approach to marketing messages, his blog popularity and the old 'free sample' technique. As a marketing exercise it worked spectacularly well.  But as part of a broader business model it failed because the main UK distributor ran out of money and went out of business. This was something I warned about in 2005.

At the time, Hugh was figuring out how to send Stormhoek into hyper growth and I said that if the company didn't make sure its supply chain was geared up to handle massive growth then it would get into trouble. That's pretty much what happened.

Now twist this sideways. Rising creative marketer Sam Lawrence has been talking about the disconnect between existing internal systems of communication and data handling, the new forms of emergent collaboration and the manner in which corporations are organized. In his latest post, Sam says:

The new people-focused enterprise wants its head back. They want the place for the people to easily unify and get to the point. You can call this “Enterprise 2.0? you can call this “social productivity,” it doesn’t really matter what you call it other than it’s going to turn things right-side up.

Sam is right to draw attention to this issue even though it is really a veiled attack on Microsoft Sharepoint's file centric approach to collaboration. Even if Sam's nirvana materialized tomorrow we'd be faced with chaos and the likelihood of many Stormhoek disasters. No responsible management team will allow that to happen.

To date, there has been no considered discussion about how the unstructured world of information discovery and action gets married to the hyper growth world of groundswell marketing or the transaction systems that demonstrate the results companies are looking for - improved effective asset usage. It's a massive flaw yet representative of the very disconnect to which Sam refers. Do you know for example that most supply chain problems are solved on disparate non-shareable spreadsheets? Has anyone given serious thought as to how you engage the wee machine shop in Kansas that happens to make vital parts? Is industry as a whole looking hard at the value of telemetry across the whole supply chain? What about vendor relationship management that takes the principles of CRM and applies those to suppliers?

I hope Groundswell does well and that it allows companies to find new ways to be more effective in their marketing strategies with technology driving those trends. But what industry needs now is some balance. Without that, I fear that the marketing mavens will find their worlds come crashing around their ears and an intensification of the siloed behaviors that Sam and others are so keen to see put out to grass.

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