From the Archives: Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social media by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, is from January 23, 2009.


The first wave of social media books, like Wikinomics or even Here Comes Everybody, were of the "what the heck is this all about" variety. They focused on getting people up to speed on what social media is and what it could be used for, not so much on concrete strategies for implementing social media for a particular organization or community. The second wave of social media books is starting to hit now, books about the nuts and bolts of online community building, and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social media is an excellent example.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who actually wants to implement social networking or media software in their organization or for their community. Yes, library and science 2.0 communities, this means you. Want to engage your patrons in online library spaces? Want to build a "Facebook for scientists" that will actually be more than a barren windswept wasteland? This book is for you.

Trying to summarize or explain all the lists of suggestions and strategies the authors give us is probably not that practical, especially since their top to bottom, beginning to end treatment of implementing social media will mean that some chapters are more relevant to some people and other chapters to other people.

A brief outline of the sections will probably give a better feeling for what the book is about. The first part explains what the social media groundswell is and why it's suddenly become important for organizations to engage their communities directly. Part two is about tapping into the groundswell: listening, talking, energizing, helping and embracing. Part three is about transforming your organization internally so that it can embrace the customer groundswell.

One like I did like, at the very end of the book, does give us an idea of how the authors see organizations transforming their attitudes to allow them to embrace the groundswell.

So, we'll finish with some advice, not on what to do, but on how to be. This is the essence of groundswell thinking we've been describing...developing the right attitude. Here are some lessons we learned from groundswell thinkers, lessons that will help you make this amazing transition.

First, never forget that the groundswell is about person-to-person activity...

Second, be a good listener...

Third, be patient...

Fourth, be opportunistic....

Fifth, be flexible...

Sixth, be collaborative...

Seventh, and last, be humble...

These are the principles of groundswell thinking. Aspire t these qualities, and you can use the strategies we've laid out to your advantage -- or invent your own. You'll be able to build on you successes, both with customers and within you company. And then, as the groundswell rises and becomes ubiquitous, you will be ready.

I'm often critical of business hype books and their shallowness and repetition. This book just isn't like those others. It's actually pretty down to earth and practical. It has certainly changed the way I think about library web presences and how we can work to engage our patron communities. It also shapes my thinking and research directions every day.

This book is suitable and recommended for any collection that supports entrepreneurship and online community building, be it in a business, social science, technology or industrial setting. As well, public libraries that reach out to local business communities could do with this book, both for their patrons and for figuring out how to reach out to their communities.

And has there ever been a better time in recent memory to be a community organizer?

Li, Charlene and Josh Bernoff. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2008. 286pp. ISBN-13: 978-1422125007

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