With all the talk on SM, I wanted to step back and talk about one of the ideas that social media is fueled by. Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies is written by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The book defines 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.” So why is it considered so powerful? The groundswell is putting the power where it so rightfully belongs, back into the consumer. The information exchange is delivered honestly, without hidden agenda and is completely out of company’s control. Business have changed and re-defined their best practices because of the groundswell. But the groundswell has the power to take a business to places they’ve only dreamed of beforehand-if they use it correctly.

Effectively communicating with your consumers puts a face to the company and implies goodwill, even if you have less than pure intentions in the beginning. The first step is to listen. Read everything you can find about your company and industry. Then, after much research, start commenting on these blogs on behalf of your company, or create your own. Along with blogs, discussion forums have become a virtual dumping ground of information that could threaten your company. Blogs and forums have little to no standards for their content, but they can be as credible as an expert’s opinion. According to the book, one in five online Americans participate in discussion forums.

There are many reasons why people participate in the groundswell, but my reasons involve the creative and altruistic impulse. I create a blog, comment on content and interact with people because I think the effort is worthwhile. It has strengthened relationships and helped create new ones and lets me express myself in a way that I have complete control over. It doesn’t really matter to me if anyone reads it, just so long as my voice has the opportunity to be heard.

To understand the groundswell, you must secondly understand your audience and must create a strategy for each different demographic; this is the importance of the Social Technographics Profile. The STP characterizes six groups, although they have the potential to overlap. First there are the creators, those who actively post a blog, upload content, or maintain a Web page. This group accounts for 18 percent of the online American population.

Then they are the critics. This category is pretty self-explanatory; this group is not responsible for the content but is reacting to it. This group is considered very powerful and has the ability to hurt a company’s reputation. A good example of this is the Motrin Mom “Baby Wearing” campaign. Motrin released an ad suggesting the “supposed” benefits of wearing a carrier or sling was not worth the physical strain it could bring to moms on their Web site for one day and it exploded. Moms around the world were furious with it sarcastic undertone and went to the Internet to express their anger. Motrin execs pulled the ad a day later, but it and all the viral responses to the ad live forever on YouTube. Critics account for one in four online Americans.

Collectors are actively searching for content and saving information with the help of an RSS feed or bookmarking site, like Digg. This, surprisingly, has a lower participant percentage with only 10 percent of online Americans. Next, there are the joiners. This accounts for online users that maintain profiles on social networking sites and account for 25 percent of online American users. Then there are the spectators that consume what others produce and accounts for most of the American online community with 48 percent participation. Finally, there are the inactives that don’t participate. This number, shockingly, is around 40 percent. Yet how online Americans can be considered inactive, is beyond me.

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