Listening to the Groundswell


Well we are another week down, another chapter read from Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (available for purchase here). And who would have thought this HR student was leading a blog on social media marketing! But the books good, and it feels relevant, just like a book about technology should, unlike many outdated textbooks and cases I’ve seen over my four years.

This chapter is focusing on listening to the groundswell. For new readers wondering what the heck a groundswell is, see my last post here for the definition. But this online movement needs proper attention and care to use it as an opportunity, and this comes in the form of listening. With so much going on in daily lives, so many online users, it’s easy to tune out and stick with your way of doing things. But having an ear to the groundswell may help you or your business proactively succeed and grow.

Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen. Found at
Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen. Found at

Your brand is what customers say it is (Bernoff & Li, 2011). As the authors note, the brand transcends the physical company, it lives outside the company and is determined by the market. And more than likely it can be determined in the groundswell, where the market communicates with each other. But the more you listen, the more you can take approaches to align how the groundswell perceives your brand, to how you want to be perceived. Market research can map trends, but makes it difficult to know what people are thinking. Focus groups can answer questions, but won’t tell you what you never thought to ask, which may be the most important (Bernoff & Li, 2011, pg.80). Actively listening to the groundswell can reveal new insights, something you may just need to take your company to the next level, meet an important consumer need, or mitigate PR crisis’ early.

So whether you choose to listen by starting a private community, engaging a company for brand monitoring, or using tools to listen on your own, the authors provide practical suggestions to help you in listening to the groundswell.
Check the Social Technographics Profile (STP) of your customer: See my previous article here for more information about the STP. This starting point allows you to better understand if your customers actually participate in the groundswell to allow more comprehensive brand monitoring. If your customers rank high in creators or critics, brand monitoring can be more effective.
Start Small, Think Big: Multiple brands and multiple online sources of information can lead to information overload. Research can grow in both cost and complexity over time. Have a plan in place to ensure listening can be managed well.
Experienced Listening Vendors: If you use a vendor to listen to the online community, you’ll want experienced analysts ready to understand what you need to gain from the information and how to help your users understand the results.
Interpreting & Integrating Information: Once you have data collected, you actually have to do something with it! Have senior staff dedicated to reading reports, consulting with vendors, and generating conclusions. Use the information to generate action plans aligned with company values.
(Bernoff & Li, 2011)

Listening to the online community isn’t just for marketing purposes. Human resources and recruiting can actively listen to the groundswell to gain insight. Are people talking about staff experiences? Customer service? Are they talking about services they wish they had (and maybe services you can develop a position and recruit someone for)? Or maybe your online community is expressing interest in job positions at your company. What are they saying about it? Is someone in a private community expressing ideas that make you think they would make a great asset to your team? So many questions for the HR person, so little time. Research can help HR exert more powerful influences when it comes to what is needed to develop the company through staffing, training, communication, etc., and turn insight into action.

So thanks for listening to me, now go get listening to the groundswell!



Bernoff, J., & Li, C. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard.

Featured Image:Why social listening is important. Retrieved from here


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