Living in the age of the Groundswell

Josh Bernoff‘s day 2 keynote from Forrester Consumer Forum.

Key point: Objectives, not technology, need to lead your effort

Don’t build a community just because your competitors do. Don’t just try to “generate buzz” – what is the goal you hope that buzz will accomplish? Figuring out what you’re trying to achieve will let you then measure what you are doing.

It isn’t “how do we get involved in the groundswell” but what problem are we trying to solve or what opportunities are we trying to create.

These are the main objectives:

  1. Listening
  2. Talking
  3. Energizing
  4. Supporting
  5. Embracing

Analogies to organizational roles:

Research -> Listening
Marketing -> Talking
Sales -> Energizing
Support -> Supporting
Development -> Embracing

In the groundswell (ie, in the web 2.0 era), each of these needs to be transformed a bit. He went through each of them with some examples, including vendors.

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear a single mention of the use of open source to help deliver on these objectives – each objective ended with a brief table listing approaches and vendors – but no mention of assembling your own solutions with open source frameworks, despite the reality that open source frameworks are often the best solutions in many of these spaces.

I know Forrester hasn’t historically focused on open source and I don’t expect them to – but buying product solutions from proprietary vendors isn’t the entire universe. He also didn’t really cover how you integrate these solutions together – so that you don’t end up with five siloed solutions but a cohesive strategy and integrated set of applications which exchange and share data. [Note: this did come up during the Q & A – see the end of the notes below.]


Listening – this is like your old research department, which is designed to get information from customers.

Example of Lynn Perry, cancer patient, on waiting for treatment at the treatment center – sitting in the waiting room, recognizing “my time is more precious than theirs” – the importance of scheduling and managing people’s tasks in that context – while spending tons on treatment equipment, don’t ignore the need to manage people’s time.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network forum – supporting patiences and caregivers everywhere (SPACE?) – built by Communispace.

This is an example of using a private community (he points to vendors like Communispace, MarketTools, Think Passenger) to create listening opportunities.

The other approach is monitoring buzz in the blogosphere, etc.


This isn’t just about talking – but it is about conversation, and building brand by participating in the conversation.

Adidas Soccer page on MySpace – when you friend this profile, you get graphics you can use in your own MySpace layouts.

4 million impressions for 100k. This is highly effective talking strategy.

Talking can also mean blogging, something Forrester gets lots of questions about.


This is about helping your best customers recruit other customers.

Jim Noble and eBags – energizing with ratings and reviews. He wrote a good review. The zipper broke. He engaged with the head of design from eBags, who actually took his changes to the factory in HongKong where they implemented the suggestions he provided.

Use ratings and reviews (vendors like Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews)

Or designate lead customers to energize others – by creating a brand ambassador program.


Dell Support Forum – Posts from predator – 20,452 since 1999.

“I actually enjoy helping people. That’s what got me hooked: when you help people and they say ‘Thank You’.”

The point is people will be willing to help each other. (Vendors: Lithium, Jive, Prospero)

Or, enable customers to build solutions together (Vendors: SocialText, Confluence, Wikia)


Work with users to create and prioritize new features, new products. idea exchange as the primary example. (Vendors: Communispace, MarketTools)

What about objectives before technology?

Getting back to objectives, Bernoff went through some ROI calculations – cost of running a forum versus answering support calls, cost of corporate communications (in and outbound) versus blogging, etc.

But it isn’t just about ROI – as you start doing this it is a reformation in the way you do things – it will change the company in more profound ways than just the ROI calculation.

First question from the audience – is about “who can help us” – he mentions that there are many companies which “can help you build communities” (quick plug – mine not Bernoff’s – companies like Optaros).

Another question from the audience asked about “an integrated approach” – he cautions that companies shoudl start with one objective and then grow from there – integrated is good, but it should be integrated which grows from initial successes – know where you are going in being integrated, but don’t try to do everything all at once.

(Note: somewhere in between disclosure and a plug: Optaros‘ work with Swisscom Mobile Labs is a Groundswell Awards finalist).