Friday, February 10, 2012

week4r- Groundswell: A Modern-Day Field of Dreams?

Groundswell: A Modern-Day Field of Dreams?

When I starting using the Internet in 1993, it was a tool for quick communication. After a few years applications were added allowing users to send documents, which was a welcome alternative to “snail mail”. By the late 1990’s the Internet had exploded with all sorts of new applications, evolving into the “Information Super-highway” it is today. At first, the thought of reconnecting with long lost friends, keeping up with the folks and events in my hometown, being up to date of the news and events around the world, and being able to look up just about anything, anywhere was appealing to be sure. It didn't take long for the novelty to wear off, and once-purposeful rides on the Information Super-Highway to become a meandering waste of time.

In hindsight, I can see I had unwittingly become part of the so-called “Goundswell”. It was like driving around in a car, with nowhere in particular to go. The book, Groundswell defines the term 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). It goes on to outline that this phenomenon is happening now because of the convergence of people, technology, and economics. Now that I am part of the groundswell, it is time for me to learn how to navigate my way through the increasingly complex network of pages, posts, blogs, podcasts, virtual rooms, and websites.

Downton Abbey, Season 1, Episode 7, Carson the Butler waits for a call on the new telephone

Perhaps the most important insight I've gained so far from the readings is that in order to master the groundswell, one must "concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies" (p.17). This is reassuring, as my reservations about embracing social technology are rooted in my concern about how living in the virtual world can erode one's ability to relate to the real world. I imagine in the early twentieth century there were similar concerns with the arrival of an odd-looking, newfangled device called the telephone. It too quickly became a fixture in homes and businesses alike, and it fundamentally changed the way people communicated and related to each other. As the book outlines, "In the groundswell, relationships are everything. The way people connect with each other—the community that is created—determines how the power shifts." (p18).

From: Li, Charlene and Bernoff, Josh. 2012. Groundswell, p. 43
The groundswell is as much a complex sociological phenomenon as it is a technological revolution. As with other new disciplines, there is a growing body of theoretical constructs and evidence-based research to help us understand the phenomenon and tap into its full potential. The major difference between other disciplines that have evolved and groundswell is that, at least for the time being, the groundswell remains largely driven, constructed, and directed by anyone who cares to participate. (See Figure 1) It is the 21st century version of the Proletariat rising up and claiming their voice, their proverbial seats at the table. In this uprising, the Bourgeoisie are quickly learning that their traditional business and communication strategies- more often than not- are ineffectual. 

So, how do businesses tap into this brave new world? The short answer is that they must be willing to let go of their conventional wisdom, stop talking at consumers, and start listening to the groundswell. They must be willing to hear things they may not like or agree with, and respond on the people's terms. They must be willing not only to learn new ways of relating to their target audiences, but also to learn from their mistakes and evolve.

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