From IROs to Engineers: Grappling with the Groundswell

The Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh BernoffLast week I spoke at two panels in California. The topic: new media. At the National Investor Relations Institute Conference in San Diego, my friend Rob Williams at Dell assembled a robust panel on blogging for investor relations officers (IROs).   At the Design Automation Conference two days later in Anaheim, Scott Sandler of Springsoft organized a session for engineers on navigating new media. A 90-minute train ride separated these two disparate audiences, but what struck me besides the glorious California coastline was how both groups are grappling with the Groundswell.

The Groundswell, written by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research, is the best book to date written on social media. Rich in case studies, data, and readable prose, the authors decipher the social web’s tools, technologies and tactics in terms that nongeeks can understand. Read this book!

Its most relevant thesis for professional communicators is that people are looking TO EACH OTHER for news and information, rather than to traditional institutions like corporations. While this is no surprise, what distinguishes Li and Bernoff’s work from others is how it convincingly presents Web 2.0 as an opportunity, not a threat.

Is it alot of extra work to understand the Groundswell? You bet. One of the best quotes of the DAC panel was a frustrated marketing exec who groused: “Great, so we’re all publishers…now we have to do that, too!” This marketer longed for the days when a print ad in an engineering trade publication accomplished the task of getting a software firm’s message out.

Is the Groundswell scary?  As Li and Bernoff point out, “It isn’t comfortable at first.”   For IROs and others trained to control the flow of their company’s information to Wall Street and elsewhere, giving up control to gain influence is counter cultural.  And yet the IROs who attended our panel were open to the change.

Many would argue control has always been a delusion–all the more reason to invest in understanding.

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