Groundswell and Social Media in the Global Economy

Groundswell book cover

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, top researchers at Forrester Research, are clearly on a winner with their forthcoming book on social media, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

On the Groundswell blog you can read the Table of Contents and download a fifteen page excerpt.

The promise the book’s promotion on Amazon makes to companies is that, from reading the book, they will learn how to:

  • Evaluate new social technologies as they emerge
  • Determine how different groups of consumers are participating in social technology arenas
  • Apply a four-step process for formulating your future strategy
  • Build social technologies into your business including monitoring your brand value, talking with the groundswell through marketing and PR campaigns, and energizing your best customers to recruit their peers

The reviews I’ve read so far on blogs have all been congratulatory. And on the Social Media Today site, of which I am a member, Jerry Bowles declared the authors Bloggers of the Week.

B.L.Ochman has a glowing review. She is unequivocally enthusiastic:

Get out your magic marker and your sticky notes, and go sit in a corner and read this book. It’s not only the most lucid explanation of how social media has changed the world; it’s a fun read. Buy a copy for all of your clients.

Jacob Morgan is also very positive about the book and recommends it. He emphasizes its value for company executives and others interested in taking action on social media:

If you are company executive or just some guy looking to get involved in social media, this book is really going to open your eyes. In fact this book should be required reading for any company seeking to dive into the social media pool…seriously.

David Berkowitz is another fan, with just one quibble. The fan bit is up front:”…is the best book on social media I’ve ever read, and it may be the best book ever written on the subject.” The quibble is: “…it doesn’t dive deep enough into what goes wrong and how some campaigns could have been better.”

With my interest in the international scene, especially in the Asia Pacific, I’m wondering how much coverage the book gives to developments outside North America. The blurb on the Groundswell blog says:

Groundswell is based on hard consumer data and experience with dozens of companies, large and small, from Procter & Gamble to Ernst & Young to a tiny but wildly successful winery in South Africa.

From the list of case studies, the winery is evidently Stormhoek, which many of us have heard about from the inimitable Hugh MacLeod. With that exception, France’s Credit Mutuel and maybe a few more that I can’t readily discern, the list of case studies or “examples” used seems to be dominated by the North American scene. If the authors’ employer, Forrester, were simply a North American company, that would no doubt be quite understandable. But what the company’s website declares as its “worldwide presence” includes, as well as the United States and Canada, the following locations:

Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom

However, it appears that for a number of those the local presence is a sales office. The research centers are confined to North America and Europe.


My concern about how clearly applicable or not the arguments in the book are going to be in the wider world are perhaps not well founded. But 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.

And in general it may be that there is more global referencing in the book than is evident from what I’ve read so far. But as the book is not released till April 21 and then allowing a couple of weeks at least for Amazon to deliver it across the ocean (these days they seem to ship to Australia via Europe, if the last couple of deliveries are anything to go by), I guess I will just have to wait another month or so to find out.

Perhaps too there were review copies sent to bloggers outside North America and I just haven’t picked up on the reviews. If you know of any, I trust you will leave a comment here.

In the meantime, I am sure the book will sell like hotcakes, especially in North America.

(Update April 5: I’m really impressed with the response to this post by the folks at Forrester – as well as the thoughtful comment from co-author Josh Bernoff, I’ve had constructive communications from others at Forrester, via email, and a review copy of the book is being sent – that for me says kudos to Forrester and Harvard Business Press, because in the past some other authors have been told their publishers will not ship review copies outside the US.)

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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  1. Des, I’m inclined to agree with you. Charlene and Josh are great at their jobs and heavily involved in the community and no doubt their work is rock-solid. But to present predominantly US evidence for the emergence of social networking and present US-centric approaches to adoption presents a major issue.

    We both know that widespread adoption of Internet use, let alone use of social networking is yet to occur in Australia and significant parts of Asia. We’re only just beginning to see business here take its first tentative steps into the world of Enterprise 2.0. Yes, there are leaders and yes, they’re well established in their efforts, but they are well to the left end of the adoption curve.

    Like you, I’m prepared to wait and see, but America is not necessarily representative of the rest of the world.

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  3. Des — thanks for taking note of our book.

    We cast a wide net for examples around the world and the book includes not just Stormhoek but examples from France, Korea, Canada, and Japan.

    I’d be delighted to hear about examples from Australia if you know of any. We conducted firsthand interviews with people and a number of the Japanese and Korean companies were reluctant to go public with their efforts.

    You can see Australia participation data on our microsite at I’d be interested in your own perspective about how Australian companies are engaging with the groundswell.

  4. Josh
    Thanks for stopping by. I’m looking forward to having the whole book to read and review, not just snippets and other people’s reports. The word I get about Australian companies sounds a bit like the Japanese and Korean situation – i.e. quite a bit happening behind the firewall but we are reluctant or unwilling to be quoted publicly. At a conference in Sydney a few weeks ago I asked whether a year from now we would be hearing more about using social technologies to engage more effectively with “external” customers: the response was muted to say the least. But I’ll keep asking! I do think China is the really interesting story in this area – so many people going online, using the technology, but mixed messages about how companies are engaging with that public, or not: and all that overlaid with the political context.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to read my review. Yes, they do include examples from all around the world. The review copy I read is all of about 250 pages, so they can’t dive too deeply in any one country; much of that’s anecdotal. And by its nature, the book needs to have a US-centric point of view. Still, much of the discussion on when and how to implement these technologies and media channels should be fairly universal, even if, say, social networks might be more important right now in France while wikis are further along in New Zealand (just hypotheticals there). The technographics tool on th groundswell blog also is designed for global use.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, David. I don’t know that I suggested a need to “dive too deeply into any one country”. I understand being selective with examples. I don’t know what you mean by “by its nature, the book needs to have a US-centric point of view”. Until I went to China last year I might have assumed that the discussion of when and how to implement these technologies etc “should be universal”. Now I wonder. And in my post I was wondering, not being dogmatic. US-centric data is obviously enough for you. For some of us living and working in other parts of the world, with other cultural frameworks, there is a surely understandable question that comes up, which is “so what’s the situation here?” I don’t see a problem with asking that and I frankly doubt that the authors would have a fundamental problem with that either. My experience of being a researcher and working with researchers suggests to me that they would love to have usable data/examples from around the world. And yes, I get that the technographics tool is designed for global use.

  7. Yeah, I agree with the rest. Great insights, Des. I used to read Charlene’s blog some time ago consistently but no longer do. But that’s more to time constraints than anything else. Would be interesting to see how sales will do given the fact that they started blogging way before they published the book.

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