Thursday, February 23, 2012

week6r- Managing the Groundswell:Transforming Innovation into Action

Managing the Groundswell:
Transforming Innovation into Action

Chapters 9 & 10 of the book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, (Li, Charlene; Bernoff, Josh; Vook), demonstrate what a powerful tool social media can be. This is true for consumers and vendors alike, when the groundswell of social media is used properly to communicate. I emphasize this word- communicate- because the forms and meanings of it are evolving with changing technology. Let’s examine what communicate actually means. Merriam Webster Online defines it as "to convey knowledge of or information about : make known."  This is vastly different from what is happening in the groundswell. The aforementioned book describes the groundswell as, “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” (p. 9)

Confronted with this brave new world in which customers truly do have a voice, whether or not businesses like it, is a daunting task. Businesses face having to learn a new way of communicating with their customers that supports their objectives, while at the same time actually listening to what the customers are saying. These chapters highlight several recent books that emphasize this point, including Eric von Hippel's book, Democratizing Innovation (available online, free of charge by clicking on the link).

Pictured: An example of's advertising
To illustrate how necessary interactive communication is- not only to succeed in the groundswell, but also to survive- several examples of businesses who have successfully navigated this brave new world of social media are presented. The first such example is, a company that provides data and communications management platforms that enable its customers to run there sales and marketing operations more efficiently and effectively. Sounds important? Yes, indeed it is. The daunting task faced was that because they sell a service, not a static product, their customers expect real-time solutions. The challenge was to find a way to gather the information, analyze it, and adapt to their customers needs in as close to real-time as possible. 

They faced this challenge by launching Idea Exchange (explained in the video above) and asked customers for their input on their- the customer's- development priorities. This application was so successful, bought the company that developed it. As Steve Fisher, the company's VP in charge of the platform puts it,“We can help diminish the political pushing and make it [about] the quality of the ideas.....[the new process is a] real debate about real ideas. You want to surface those and get rid of the crap.” (p.186)

Another example given, and one that is close to my heart, is that of the giant Canadian grocery chain Loblaw's. I lived in the Toronto area for over a decade and I loved Loblaw's, mainly because of their President's Choice brand products. My favorite was their Chocolate Fudge Crackle ice cream! I shopped at Loblaw's when they launched the President's Choice product line. I can tell you first hand that when Loblaw's VP of e-commerce, Jim Osborne described how much the grocery chain does to solicit feedback and improve their President's Choice line, he is speaking the truth. This is definitely not just the usual hype companies make because it sounds good.

In Chapter 10, we see a more recent explosion in the groundswell in action: Twitter. I must admit I only recently joined  Twitter , and solely for the purpose of learning more about it. The thought of adding yet another layer to the constant chatter of this brave new world of Social Media doesn't particularly appeal to me. Having said that, I think  Twitter  will turn out to be a valuable commodity to the marketplace because of the way it facilitates almost instantaneous communication with those businesses who choose to 'tweet", and their customers.
Table 10-1 Illustrates the demographic profile of Twitter users. From: Li, C and Bernoff, J:
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Media. (2011)

From the demographics outlined in Table 10-1, we can see that regular users of  Twitter  tend to be adults with higher incomes who agree with the statement "I often tell friends about products that interest me." This could be a gold mine or a mine field for businesses, depending on how well they rise to this new challenge.

Some businesses, like McDonald's, are already ahead of the curve with  Twitter  McDonald's  has been very proactive and has even dedicated a headcount of employees whose sole function is managing customer relations on  Twitter . Once such customer is Fadra Nally, a North Carolina mother who works from home and takes her toddler son to the local  McDonald's  on a fairly regular basis. Ms. Nally, a professional writer and blogger, contacted  McDonald's  by  Twitter  to complain that her son got a "girl toy" in his Happy Meal when he was expecting an action figure. This "tweet" was picked up almost immediately by  McDonald's  customer satisfaction team who communicated with Ms. Nally and rectified the situation. The value of the good will  McDonald's  creates with this level of customer service, not to mention the accolades the company received in Ms. Nally's blog (pictured, above-left), is hard to quantify in dollars terms. Suffice it to say that millions in advertising doesn't buy that kind of customer loyalty.

These examples demonstrate how Social Media is changing the world as we know it in many different ways. With this evolution comes new challenges for virtually everyone, from businesses who  must be willing to relinquish control, to people who must learn new ways to communicate in order to stay "in the loop", as we have discussed here today. It does go beyond this as well- with political changes, power shifts, economics, and the list goes on...

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