The Future of Groundswell

In the book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff write about how social media -- blogs, wikis, Facebook -- has impacted the way customer's interact with your brands. These elements of a social phenomenon -- the groundswell -- has created a permanent, long-lasting shift in the way the world works. Most companies see it as a threat. You can see it as an opportunity.

Jason Korman makes wine. He's made wine his whole life. That's how he knows it's a terrible business.

Success in running a small winery is pretty close to impossible. There are thousands of new wineries all around the world. Distribution is challenging. Awareness tends to come from magazines like the Wine Spectator, where it can take months to get a review -- if you're lucky. So when Jason Korman started his winery, Stormhoek, in South Africa in 2003, he knew he needed a different approach to reach people. He decided his wine would be the first to succeed through the groundswell.

Jason realized the key was to concentrate on the experiences wine is a part of, not the wine in the bottle. "Wine is a social lubricant," he says.

"While we care passionately about wine quality, we really believe that wine is about what happens after you open the bottle." The groundswell thinking in Stormhoek's approach was to encourage people having a good time with his wine to talk about it. That's why one of his first strategies, in June 2005, was to send bottles of Stormhoek vintages to 185 bloggers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Try our wine," he told them in a little booklet that came along with the wine, suggesting that they write about it if they liked it, or even if they didn't.

The result of all this activity was that by the end of 2005, 305 blog posts mentioned the wine. Stormhoek had created a new meaning for "wine buzz."

One key to this success was the connection Jason made with Hugh McLeod, an American blogger who draws devastatingly sarcastic little cartoons on the back of business cards and posts them regularly on his blog at www.gapingvoid.com. Hugh partnered with Stormhoek. The assets Hugh brought were his international following, his catchy graphics (which now grace many of Stormhoek's bottles), and his intuitive feel for what works in the groundswell. Hugh's little pamphlet that accompanied the gift wines gave the whole exercise credibility and authenticity, which probably led to the wine being featured in so many blog posts.

Two years later, Stormhoek's $1 million wine business had grown to a $10 million business. Jason has continued to build on the success among bloggers with a Facebook group, YouTube videos, and Flickr photos (he suggests you post mementos of your "geek dinner" with Stormhoek wines, or a photo of yourself outside the local Tesco food store with a bottle you bought). And all these activities have generated their own cloud of publicity, with mentions on CNN and in Advertising Age. Stormhoek even managed to get Microsoft employees interested in a private-label vintage featuring a Hugh McLeod illustration with the words "Change the world or go home," a sentiment many Microsofties embrace.

Stormhoek lives in the groundswell. The Internet is Jason Korman's marketing department. Jason and Hugh have created a company firmly embedded in the social fabric across multiple countries, and it's not some ethereal start-up -- it sells a real physical product that takes sweat to produce and comes in bottles. Jason Korman is not a stubble-faced Internet entrepreneur, either -- he's forty-seven. The difference between Stormhoek and nearly every other company in this book is this: Jason and Hugh live in the groundswell and know they will grow as it grows. They're natives.

You should learn to think as they do.

Groundswell technologies are exploding. They're cheap and easy to create and improve, they tap easily into the Internet advertising economy, and they connect people who naturally want to connect.

The net result of all this accelerating activity is that the groundswell is about to get embedded within every activity, not just on computers, but on mobile devices and in the real world. This is the ubiquitous groundswell. What does that mean?

It means social networks will connect people with the groups they care about. Transactions will be constantly rated and reviewed. Tags, supplied by ordinary people, will reorganize the way we find things. Feeds will alert us to any changed content, and feed readers will be as much a part of the online experience as e-mail or browsers are now.

It's hard to imagine what this world will be like. So rather than explain it, we'll take you on a tour. Let's spend a day in that future.

The net effect of all these changes will be much broader than the individual parts. When the groundswell surrounds you like a cocoon, when you breathe it like air and depend on it always, the world will feel very different.

Imagine for a moment that you're in marketing at a shoe company. You wake up on December 1, 2012. What will your day be like?

As soon as you wake up, your phone (now a much more sophisticated mobile device) tells you things it's learned from the groundswell, things you want to know. To start, your favorite social network tells your phone that a college friend is coming to town next week on business. You text that you're interested in getting together -- word will get back to her, along with others from your circle of college friends. Next thing you know, a spontaneous mini-reunion is being organized by the group.

Your phone is also telling you that the Federal Trade Commission is thinking of blocking your two top competitors from merging with each other, and that the two hot colors for next spring look like mauve and canary yellow -- because you've set the device up to bring you information from the Wall Street Journal, Footwear News, and Women's Wear Daily. The feeds are smart -- they watch what you've been reading and bring you more of the stuff they know you, and others similar to you, would like to know.

Alongside those feeds are the top posts from shoeblog.com and shoeaholicsanonymous.com. You key in a comment on shoeaholics, right from your phone -- can't let them get away with calling those cute pumps your company just had shipped in from Mexico "cheap." Downing the last of your morning coffee, you receive an alert that warns the interstate is backed up again -- better take the alternate route. You make sure your phone's GPS tracking system is on so that you can add your own commute progress to the traffic database.

Arriving at the office, you plug the laptop in and check your monitoring dashboard. Mauve is on fire -- according to your groundswell monitoring service, shoe buzz is up 25 percent today, and 11 percent of the posts mention mauve, mostly next to positive indicator phrases like "gotta-have" and ";-b." Canary yellow, on the other hand, is getting dissed with words like "lame" and "ten minutes ago." The spring color choices need to get finalized this week -- this is a big decision. Is it a fad, or is it real? You decide to test the theory.

On your own blog, nextgenshoetrends.com, you float a trial balloon. It takes just a moment to take some designs from last season and color a few of them mauve. "We're thinking of something like this for next spring -- but with a different strap, something you've never seen before," you post. Let's see what happens when your little cadre of shoe followers sees that.< /p>

For fun, you do a search on ShoeTube and find the source of the buzz -- it's a video of the twenty-two-year-old singer-celebrity of the moment, leader of the superficial friends, Helena Trampp. She was hitting the club circuit last night in mauve stilettos and a skimpy midriff-baring outfit. You drop a link in your blog and, to supercharge things, ask your pal Manny down in community relations to put a link to your post out on SuperShoe, the private community of shoe fanatics your company runs. Before lunchtime you go to your internal wiki to add a quick note that ties together the files and activities from the morning that have already been uploaded and logged, so that manufacturing and retail relations know what you're up to.

Lunchtime. Time to drop off the grid. You turn your phone on private so that it stops tracking you and buy a gift for your honey's birthday in the shop around the corner. The groundswell can wait a moment. You grab a sandwich, and it's back to work.

By afternoon the word is back. Of the 191 comments on your blog, 75 percent are positive, and they're going nuts over Helena's stilettos -- Shoe-Tube already shows nine other videos of Helena wannabes strutting their stuff. The competitors can see this, too, but you've got an edge -- your designers have already got the heel designs ready, and your manufacturer, in addition to being fast on new designs, is a whiz at color. To top it off, the buzz in SuperShoe is sizzling -- sure, that community is filled with out-there shoe fanatics, but they definitely seem to want mauve.

With a great deal of confidence, you place the order; you know the feed of your orders will go straight to your boss and operations, so there's no need to contact them. Your suppliers and retailers have also subscribed to your order feed, so their start pages and mobile devices will soon be showing you're on top of the mauve trend, too.

You'll post the news with a little more spin on your blog a week or two from now; Footwear News will probably pick it up, but that's too late for your competitors to catch up, especially when they're distracted by their pending merger. You decide to drop a few advance pairs to a couple of up-and-coming actresses you know in Hollywood -- you call them your shoe ambassadors -- who make a sideline of blogging fashion and commenting on fashion forums. You call one to make sure she'll be at the movie premiere next February and shoot off the new designs, appropriately colored, to her phone to whet her appetite.

Just before heading home you see a note that your daughter's chatter on FaceSpace.soc is way up. But clicking through, you find out she and her friends are talking about...algebra. Hey, if that's how they solve problems in high school now, it's pretty good college prep.

Time to head home with a smile on your face. Sure, it's hard to keep up with all that information flowing your way, but the flow of insight to and from the groundswell is crucially valuable to the decisions you make -- and it's manageable thanks to the intelligence built into your browsers, both mobile and computer based. Just another day immersed in the groundswell.

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2 Comments

  • Alex Haffey

    "While we care passionately about wine quality, we really believe that wine is about what happens after you open the bottle," that's really interesting.
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    Homework Assignment

  • Michael Daehn

    Good book- Cluetrain for the 10's and some good ammo for presenting to execs.