Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, a Book Review

A Look at Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

So, Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff is one of those books where you realize, aha! I am learning something big.

At least, that’s the idea.

Cover of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Cover of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

The most important piece is the Social Technographics profile. Online people can be divvied up as follows:

  • Creators – these people make original content. Bloggers, article writers, website creators and maintainers and people who upload audio and video all belong to this group. It’s a good 18% of the United States, as of the writing of the book (2008). I do everything on that list, so that puts the Creator stamp right in my wheelhouse.
  • Critics – these people react to what’s been created by the Creators. They comment on blogs and forums. And they produce ratings and reviews. They edit wikis. They encompass a good 25% of the US. But I do all of those things, too. So am I a Critic, instead?

More Types

  • Collectors – these people save URLs and tags on Social Bookmarking sites (things like delicious). They vote on Digg. And they use RSS. They comprise about 12% of America. Hey, I do all of those things, too! Am I now a Collector?
  • Joiners – these people participate in and maintain profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook. They make up a good 25% of the US and, you guessed it, I do these things, too.
  • Spectators – these people are also called Lurkers. They read but don’t comment, categorize or classify. I am occasionally like this, but usually not. This tribe comprises 48% of the United States. And,
  • Inactives – these people just plain don’t participate. It does beg the question, though, since they are online — what do they do? They might just pay bills and read email, or do sudoku puzzles, I suppose. They make up 41% of America.

Wait, That’s Over 100%, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li!

If you look at the percentages and add them up, you get over 100%. Hence, it’s obvious (and as I have proven by using myself as a test case), most people don’t fit quite so neatly into one slot or another. Many of us wear many different hats.

And some of that may be a function of being a Creator. If you want to promote your website and/or blog, you often need to be a part of a forum or a social networking site, and you generally want to help promote your own work by social bookmarking it, or at least seeing if others have. Hence you’re also doing a bit of lurking (er, spectating). About the only thing you aren’t is Inactive.

And what of people who aren’t online at all? They are the ultimate in Inactivity.


Now, what does this all mean? You can understand these profiles in terms of demographics. Hence if you are an American woman in your fifties, your social technographics profile is such that you’re more likely to be a Spectator than anything else (73%).

You can also look (for this is a tool created by Forrester, based upon extensive research) at what companies are like, when it comes to social technographics. For companies purchasing hardware, the biggest chunk are Spectators: 68%. But there is also a fairly large chunk of Critics, 38%.

Essentially what this is saying is, typical hardware purchasing companies are going to relate best to reading (although not commenting upon) blogs and participating in forum communities. The next biggest group is Creators, 31%, although I suspect consumers of robotics products might skew more heavily into the Creator realm – many people who are interested in robotics actually build them.

Case Studies

The book then provides case studies of how various companies tapped into the groundswell, either by creating a wiki, or opening up a community, or starting to blog. If companies matched their customers’ (or employees’) social technographics profiles well, and the companies began these ventures clear-eyed and without an intent to deceive and double talk, they prospered. If not, well….

One major element that was not stressed very much, and probably should have been, is that any number of these ventures takes money.

They take time, too, of course, but it certainly helps if a company has the wherewithal to dedicate an employee to evangelizing a wiki, or hire a Community Manager or allow its employees to devote less of their time to selling or meetings (or analysis or scheduling or auditing or whatever said employees generally do) and set aside a portion of their day, week or month to blogging.

In the world of startups, of course, there are people dedicated to blogging. However, they’re also dedicated to any number of things, such as marketing, tweeting, PR and even assisting with business decisions. Such is the nature of a startup, of course. You wear almost as many hats as a Creator does.

Is this book worth it? Absolutely. Great job, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li!



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