Every so often, there seems to be a book that everyone involved in digital media or marketing is reading. THE TIPPING POINT was one of these books. THE LONG TAIL is another. The latest book getting this kind of buzz is GROUNDSWELL by Forrester Research analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. While it’s making it’s way on to a lot of CEOs’ reading lists, GROUNDSWELL is a decidedly different book than the other examples I mentioned.
The difference is due mainly to the authors and the mentality that they bring to their work. Malcom Gladwell is one of the great socialogical theorists of our time. Chris Anderson (in his position as Editor in Chief of WIRED magazine) is uniquely situated to see the big picture when it comes to digital media. But Li and Bernoff are consultants by trade. They come to the table with an agenda. And as the old saying goes, “When you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Li and Bernoff’s hammer is a methodology called POST and an analysis tool called “the Social Technographic Profile”. While both of these tools seem to have some validity, they are optimized for use by large companies (preferably, one presumes, companies that are hiring Forrester Research). In fact, the entire book is aimed at CMOs and other executives in large companies. Nothing wrong with that but given social media’s ability to lower barriers to entry and empower entrepeneurs, this seems like a very narrow focus to take.
True to it’s authors consulting roots (in fact the book sometimes reads like an extended white paper), the book is made up largely of case studies. Some of these are informative (EBags, Mini Cooper) but some are tired and familiar (is there anyone working in social media who isn’t familiar with Lego’s cutting edge efforts in this area?). It was also distracting to see the authors use a case study where they got the company’s name wrong (for the record guys, it’s Loblaws not Loblaw). Not a major issue but if you are going to come off as the authority on a subject, a little basic fact checking is in order.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about this book. And if you’re a neophyte to the world of social technologies like blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. then you will find this an easy to read primer on the subject. But if you’re an experienced digital marketer, give it to your clients and read Guy Kawasaki or Chris Brogan‘s blog instead. There’s a lot of good information here but no big idea or theory that is going to change the way you look at your business.