Listening to Groundswell

This week’s reading is on listening to the groundswell. Consumers are leaving clues about their opinions, positive and negative, on a daily or hourly basis. A basic strategy to listen is to do a google search, listening is potentially the most neglected skill in business. In the era of groundswell, listening is easy and you will only hear from people willing to talk about:

  • Blogging about store experience, selection, their favourite products
  • Discussing pros and cons of products features, your prices, and your customer support.
  • Rating your products and services o yelp and trip advisor

Your brand is whatever your customers say it is. In the groundswell where they communicate with each other, they decide because brands belong to customers, not companies. I thought this was an interesting statement because the company is a tool to create value for the brand but it ultimately influenced by the experience of the customer.

The depth of listening to the customers is called market research, and companies pay a lot of money for research sources.  Syndicated research is a valuable tool for mapping trends, but it can’t tell you what people are thinking. To gain real insight, you’re better off working with vendors that provide professional tools. There are two basic ways to do this:

  1. Set up your own private community: It is like a continuously running, huge, engaged focus group – a natural interaction in a setting where you can listen in. Communispace is a supplier of private communities that has set up hundreds of private communities for its clients. It is a listening machine that generates insight.
  2. Begin brand monitoring: Hire a company to listen to the internet: blogs, discussion forums, twitter, and everything else on your behalf.

To profit from listening, you need a plan to act on what you learn. There are many reasons why to start listening to your customers. You will find out what your brand stands for, understand how buzz is shifting, save research money and increase research responsiveness, find the sources of influence in your market and to generate new products and marketing ideas. The social technographics profile of your customer is a great way to start listening as it is most effective if your customers are in the groundswell to begin with. The number of critics and creators in your customer base can also help you to determine which path to take: brand monitoring or starting a private community instead.

As you get smarter by listening to the groundswell, you should prepare for some of the ways it will change your organization. It’s likely to change the power and structure in your organization. Marketing and research departments will become more central to how decisions are made. Second, the instant availability of information from customers, the results should be integrated into corporate decision making. A third way is that the ability to measure and quantify customer concerns becomes more accurate, it’s hard to deny that it has been overlooked.

While listening is an important part of a conversation, every conversation includes talking as well. Listeners feel the need to respond by talking within the groundswell by publishing blogs, contributing to user-generated content sites, and setting up communities. If you’re listening now, expect to be talking soon.


Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell. Boston: Harvard Business Review.


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