Books that matter: C.K. Syme reviews ‘Groundswell’

Welcome to the third installment of this blog’s “books that matter” series of book reviews in which I ask a fellow higher ed marketing or communications person to review his or her pick for the most important book all people in our field should read. This review comes from C.K. Syme (@cksyme), an expert in crisis communications and the author of a nifty little ebook titled Listen, Engage, Respond: Crisis Communications in Real-Time.

Groundswell: Living in a World Transformed By Social Technologies

Review by C.K. Syme

groundswell“The groundswell is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”

So begins the 2011 expanded and revised version of my first social media bible: Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. There is no other book I’ve read in the last 16 years that has shaped my strategic communications philosophy more than this book.

Understanding how to work with the groundswell and influence it will give you a voice there. And this book is deliciously rich in research and case studies.

The first edition was written in 2006.  It doesn’t seem like long ago, but social media years are like dog years — it was ages ago.

Two huge takeaways I learned when I read the first edition in 2006 that are still true today:

1. The groundswell isn’t the tools. The tool du jour is just the channel the groundswell uses to do life. Knowing the tools isn’t power. Understanding the groundswell is.

2. The world of personal data is changing. The power of traditional demographics is not enough. The new kid on the block is psychographics, or social technographics. Using data from the social graph, I can now access much deeper and more impacting data than demographics ever gave me.

My biggest takeaways from the new version (quotes or paraphrases from the book):

  1. The groundswell is a collision of three forces: people, technologies and economics. And on the internet, traffic equals money.
  2. The groundswell is inside organizations as well as outside. The same principles and practices engage internal and external constituencies.
  3. Technologies come and go. Concentrate on the relationships. Chasing technology is like trying to jump on a speeding merry-go-round.
  4. Listening to the groundswell is critical to engaging it.
  5. To understand the groundswell, you need to know the dynamics of the participants. A strategy that treats everyone alike will spell failure.
  6. The social technographics ladder is the key to content strategy. To ignore it is to invite failure (see #5).
  7. When trying to tap into the groundswell, clarity of objectives will make or break your strategy.
  8. Always consider your customers and what they will participate in, not the coolest and latest stuff you think will bring them in.
  9. The groundswell trend is unstoppable.
  10. Your brand is whatever your customer says it is.
  11. To profit from listening, you need a plan to act on what you hear.
  12. Online buzz can lead directly to sales.
  13. The marketing funnel has outlived its usefulness as a metaphor.
  14. Engagement pays off.
  15. Every business operation is enriched by understanding and working with the groundswell.

If you’ve read the book, please feel free to add to the list in the comments. I’d like to hear what you think.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

5 thoughts on “Books that matter: C.K. Syme reviews ‘Groundswell’”

  1. “people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” That sounds interesting to me, the rest didn’t make much sense because the use the word Groundswell to describe itself.

    1. Mark – One thing the book does a very good job of, early on, is defining the term “groundswell” in the context of social media. So in reading the bullet points, replace “groundswell” with “social media” and perhaps it will make more sense?

  2. #10 is my mantra. Whether you like the brand you have, the fact is that you do have one. And it’s not defined by your logo or your advertising. It’s defined by the thousands of interactions that you have with people every day…interactions that are now amplified by social media, or the Groundswell, if you will. You can evolve your brand, but you can’t just create one out of thin air.

  3. Thanks for the space, Andy. One thing it’s hard to remember is that when this book first came out seven years ago, we didn’t have many of the “terms”we use today in relation to social media. Forrester’s development of the social technographics ladder was ground breaking at the time. It showed us that the traditional demographics we used to rely on as marketers were just a portal to everything we take for granted today.

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