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Are you capable of Groundswell thinking?

I recently read Groundswell by Charline Li and Josh Bernoff. It is a book I recommend to others as the groundswell example vignettes in it are wonderful, and the authors provide good analysis of those. But it made me wonder: “What is the thought process behind Groundswell thinking? Are the people who think about social media in this way somehow different from you and me?”


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The authors define “groundswell” as a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations. When I read that definition, the first thing that came to mind for me was craigslist–that the authors were describing the giant online C2C markets that had sprung up more than a decade ago.

But the authors’ idea of groundswell is far more encompassing–it includes not just tangible things, but also intangibles. People swap beanie babies and houses, opinions and advice, complaints and compliments. There’s not only ebay and craigslist, there’s opinions at  epinions and advice at gethuman and wikihow, and complaints at and compliments and more, and more, and then some more.
The one criticism I’d make is that the book tends towards the negative–there are far more examples of problems and issues and worries that companies have faced in “going social” than there are examples of success. For example, “Listening to the groundswell will relentlessly reveal your stupidity.” If you’re tremble-hearted about getting into social media, this book may be all that you need to scare you away completely.
While it is true that there are dangers in engaging with the groundswell, don’t forget that the groundswell also reveals your smarts–check out just how many people brag about great service on Twitter, make fan sites or sign up to “be a fan” on Facebook. Furthermore, I still maintain that it isn’t a valid choice for a company to ignore what’s going on online–the groundswell is happening, with or without your participation. And it is happening with people just like you and me, who just need to be willing to risk participation–and strive for the rewards.
Don’t take a glass-half-empty approach to social media; yes, there are downsides but there are great upsides too. And if you’re worried about all that empty space in your glass, maybe you just need a smaller glass.

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