Power to the people in the social media world

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio () - July 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Groundswell” is the social phenomenon that happens when people start connecting with each other using social technologies. The end game is that they begin obtaining what they need from each other, rather than from institutional sources like companies. To many businesses that adhere to conventional wisdom in the way they manage, market and communicate, such a trend can be awfully unsettling.

The book, Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research, embarks on knowing and enlisting the new social media realities in order to thrive in an ever-changing digital terrain. It provides a prescriptive direction on how to be quick and supple in a rapidly transforming and often confusing business landscape. The budding theme of the tome is not about technologies per se, but about relationships you are able to build, embrace and nurture using the newfangled tools.

Groundswell brings together the structures, information, and sample cases to steer businesses on how to work with, but more importantly, flourish in the emerging environment. One of the key structures covers how companies can better understand the behavior of people in the groundswell. To this end, Li and Bernoff share what they label as the Social Technographics Profile (STP), which classifies the way people act in seven categories set against the rapidly transforming and often confusing milieu. Who are they, as described by Forrester?

The Creators – These are online consumers who regularly blog, publish their own Web pages, upload self-generated video, audio or music, and write stories or articles and post them without fail. The Creators make up 23 percent of online adults in the USA.

The Conversationalists – People who participate in the frequent back-and-forth dialogue that’s characteristic of status updates on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Conversationalists update their status at least weekly and in 2010 they have grown to include 31 percent of the online population both in the USA and Europe.

The Critics – Individuals who react to content online, posting comments on someone else’s blog, participating in online forums, sharing ratings or reviews, or editing wikis. There are more Creators than Critics since it’s easier to critique than to create. One in three online American adults is a critic, as is one in five online Europeans and 42 percent of Japan’s population.

The Collectors – They use Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (RSS) feeds, “vote” for websites online and add “tags” to Web pages or photos. Considered an elite group, Collectors include only around 19 percent of online Americans and 10 percent of online Europeans. They are projected to grow as more sites are built in varying types of collector-type activities.

The Joiners – One of the fastest-growing groups in the profile. They maintain text or visual representations on social networking sites, which they visit every chance they get. In the USA, Joiners grew from 25 percent to 59 percent of the online population between 2007 and 2010. In South Korea, more than half of the people online are Joiners.

The Spectators – The consumers of content created online. They read tweets and online forums, listen to podcasts, and watch video from other users. It’s no surprise that this is the largest group with 68 percent of online adult Americans, 54 percent of online adult Europeans, and more than two-thirds of online adult Japanese and Chinese where the survey was conducted.

The Inactives – The non-participants who are completely untouched by social technologies. They are becoming fewer every year, though, as the pervasive social media are swiftly intruding upon business and life.

The book brings to the fore five key objectives that individuals and companies can achieve by tapping into the groundswell: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing. These activities are being done in a traditional setting, and they become even more critical in a world where customers have a say in your business, and thus have to be engaged in a big way. In an interview with Lee Odden of Top Rank, an online marketing blog, Li puts forward these thoughts:

• Groundswell is about person-to-person activity. Never, ever forget that. You are not speaking as “the company”, but as “the person.” Most companies don’t know how to handle a groundswell, and it takes a lot of practice to find that voice and be at ease with it.

Listening is key to any social technology and media engagement. It is advisable to be a good listener. All companies claim they listen to their customers, but the question is, do they really listen and let people know that they are, in fact, listening? Paying attention to what is being said about you and what you, in turn, feed back, are aspects in any relationship and connectivity that a lot of people and organizations are not very good at. Your talent for listening must be leveled up since you can’t go wrong by listening, even if you’re not actively engaging. If you don’t listen, you might just miss the markers when it’s the appropriate time and place for your company to jump on the bandwagon.

Patience is a virtue. Adjusting to new technologies requires extended time because you are going to be transforming your company, one person at a time. You will deal with new processes, paradigms and platforms. It entails persistence and hard work, so any company that has a wait-and-see attitude is going to be behind the curve. Make sure there are people who are listening to the groundswell of your customers and employees to help you fortify your hold on them.

Every opportunity to connect with people must always be seized. Start small by engaging people in your company who are most passionate about building relationships with customers. The first chapter of your Internet life is about getting everyone connected. The groundswell phase changes the way you work, live, play, and learn. In a flash, you will realize the value of those connections in tandem with the new communications and experiences those interactions have led you to — the “human network.”

Nimbleness is a distinct advantage. Always be flexible enough to reroute, change course or totally redesign your roadmap. You never know what’s going to happen so you have to constantly adjust your thinking and learning modes to adjust efficiently to the brave new world. Smart and agile companies that have successfully leveraged the Internet and online marketing have become formidable alternatives to hefty, tradition-bound competitors. Companies that can best adapt to and engage social technologies will be in a beneficial position.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. You need people from up and down the management chain to support the alterations that need to be done. Their buy-in will make the change process easier, faster and more competent. Your CEO, for example, can set the tone by starting his own blog. This can encourage others to do the same, which can expand the opportunity for the company to be constantly in touch with partners and customers.

Strategic humility works. The groundswell is the power of the people. It will always be more powerful than you or your organization. If you forget that, they will let you remember.

The impact of social technologies on business and life is no doubt intensifying. Groundswell can help you prepare for the further onslaught. And if you want to hear more about this pioneering and scholarly work on social computing and commerce on the Web, join the 22nd Philippine Advertising Congress, to be held at the Camsur Watersports Complex from Nov. 16 to 19 where Charlene Li, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, is a keynote speaker.

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E-mail bongosorio@yahoo.com or bong_osorio@abs-cbn.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

Register for the 22nd Philippine Ad Congress at www.adcongress.com.ph.

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