Helping the Groundswell Support Itself

Traditionally, companies have provided support to customers by phone or email, a costly process per call that does not always end in a solution. The self-service revolution produced two trends: companies send people to their websites online where there are a lot of product and problem-solving information and encouraged customers to use it. The second trend was outsourcing – moving support calls overseas because compensation for staff is significantly less.

As companies pursued these shifts to save money, people were frustrated with the long waits, hit-or-miss quality, and paperwork associated with support for their products. This resulted in a new source of information – each other (Li & Bernoff, 2011). People are more willing to trust each other than a company and are willing to spend time helping each other. In terms of using support systems in the accounting industry, it is the service that is provided and received to customers, not products. The support system has to be designed to facilitate exchange of information about the services, where feedback can be given and received from a customer’s experience. This type of system is integral to reputation, which is a large factor for clients to do business with these providers in the areas of tax and audit for example. Because service is hard to measure, an online forum or wiki can be used where clients can collaborate with each other and learn more about a company they are interested in doing business with. This chapter shows three applications that demonstrate the impulse of people willing to help out total strangers, they are: support forums with Dell, wikis with BearingPoint, and questions and answers with Yahoo! and Naver.

Psychic income refers to the personal or subjective benefits, rewards, or satisfactions derived from a job or undertaking as separate from its objective or financial ones. Understanding how to tap the desire for psychic income is a central element of groundswell thinking, if you can tap into that desire, you can turn it into a powerful force. Not just for satisfaction, but for new business as well. An example of this would be helping strangers with random acts that have no monetary benefit to yourself. Many people on company’s forum communicate with and help each other. They aren’t visiting these forums for fun, they are visiting to get answers. If customers are able to solve their own problems, they are less likely to be calling company support lines.

The economics of support forums display that the costs associated with a community support forum are significantly less than the value of the benefits. New support applications provide new benefits, not only do people come to support forums to seek answers but they are willing to support others who share their passion. A second application that brings people together is through wikis, which started as an internal information repository. Using wikis is a common way for companies to harness the collaborative power of their employees as well and has developed to include everybody – clients, technology venders, competitors, and their clients. Wikis are about collaboration and invites the collection of new intellectual property: information. People are able to add to the content and doesn’t allow them to change it arbitrarily – it is done though management. Significant savings are a result when a company centralizes its information internally and as a result, the benefit the company gets is making its customers feel supported.

Your goals should help determine if you should tap into the search for psychic income. Helping your customers support each other will make them happier, save money, and generate insights if properly managed. Before you begin you should examine what problem you will solve, how you will participate, and whether you should create a support community or join an existing one. Support communities need activity – activity creates content, which creates traffic and links, who boosts search engine placement, which drives more traffic, and so on.

Finally, if you do decide to go forward with building a community for support, the groundswell provides some suggestions:

  • Start small, but plan for a larger presence
  • Reach out to your most active customers
  • Plan to drive traffic to your community
  • Build a reputation system
  • Let your customers lead you

Your forum or wiki will become central to where customers talk about everything. Support communities are much richer in content than support departments and you will end up collaborating with your customers to create better products. That’s taking the power of psychic income and building it into your business.


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


Talking with the Groundswell

This week’s reading summarizes talking with the groundswell. Two of the main and expensive that marketing departments use to connect to customers is advertising and public relations with the most money being spent on television commercials. The main measures of advertising are reach, which is the number of individuals contacted, and frequency which is the number of times each person is contacted. The key to advertising is mass, public relations on the other hand aims at exposure in the free media.

The marketing funnel is a metaphor that describes how customers move down the path from awareness to purchase to loyalty. In traditional marketing theory, consumers are driven into the big end through awareness activities like advertising. They proceed through stages including consideration, preference, and action – to become buyers. Marketers have little control over what happens in the middle stages, but the influence of the groundswell is the heaviest there (Li & Bernoff, 2011). Forester Research analysts discovered that marketers no longer dictate the path that people take to conclude that once people are aware of your product, a new dynamic kicks in. That is, people are learning from each other.

Social technologies influence word of mouth which is increasing the influence of regular people while diluting the value of traditional marketing. Most people trust recommendations from friends and acquaintances over reviews from strangers. This influences the idea that advertising and marketing is only limited with customers and the best approach is to talk with customers and listen as they are talking back. Relating back to the first activity, the company I work for maintains a large and interactive presence online and the majority of customer comments and inquiries are replied to within the same day. Customers provide feedback such as the experience they had or items on the menu that are available in some locations and not in others that they want to see back in the menu. The most common way this company talks with the groundswell is engaging in social networks such as Facebook where people can comment on and share posts. It is used as a means of advertising as well as for other people to tag their friends in, who all become engaged. There are lots of ways to talk with the groundswell. The most common ways are:
1. Post a viral video.

2. Engage in social networks and user-generated content site.

3. Join the blogosphere.

4. Create a community

They key to succeeding in social networks is to help people spread your message and to measure the result, but branding on social networks isn’t for everyone. To determine if you should use social networking sites to talk with your prospective customers, the groundswell provides some advice:
• Use the Social Technographics Profile to verify that your customers are in social networks
• Move forward if people love your brand
• See what’s out there already
• Create a presence that encourages interaction
If you’re ready to make a longer-term commitment to your customers, then it may be time to look at another way to talk with the groundswell: blogging.

Many products are complex and buyers need help as they reach the middle of the funnel: consideration and preference. Buyers need a human face to help them along. A variety of blogs all over a company will help generate traffic and awareness. The main benefit is that they company can respond to customers in the middle of the funnel. Blogs generate trust because they’re personal statements from the executives and they stimulate discussion among other buyers and bloggers.

The prerequisite for starting a blog is to want to engage in dialogue with your customers. What starts on blogs can rapidly spread to mainstream media. If your company is ready to consider entering the blogosphere, remember to start with people and objectives – the P and O in POST. There are 10 suggestions for beginning the dialogue followed by implementing your strategy and technology appropriate to accomplish your objectives:
1. Start by listening
2. Determine a goal for the blog
3. Estimate the ROI
4. Develop a plan
5. Rehearse
6. Develop and editorial process
7. Design the blog and its connection to your site
8. Develop a marketing plan so people can find the blog
9. Remember, blogging is more than writing
10. Final advice: Be honest

To summarize, we have now seen four ways to talk with the groundswell – viral videos, social networks, blogs, and communities. All the marketing techniques in this chapter tap into word of mouth: talking with the groundswell means stimulating conversation. Which will work for you?

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

Strategies for Tapping the Groundswell

This week’s reading summarizes the strategy for tapping the groundswell. Companies want to know how to get themselves to become a part of the social networking space but they’re nervous about moving forward. It is a problem so common that there is a name for it: groundswell approach-avoidance syndrome. There’s a cure for this syndrome, and it is to ask yourself what are your customers ready for and then plan your objectives. Most start with thinking about the technology aspect but technology is shifting so rapidly you must work backwards and then you can start planning.

The four-step planning process POST will help you build your groundswell strategy. POST translates to people, objectives, strategy, and technology and is a foundation of groundswell thinking (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

  • People: What are your customers ready for? The Social Technographics Profile is designed to answer this question, it is important to assess how your customers will engage based on what they are already doing.
  • Objectives: What are your goals? The clarity of your objectives will make or break your strategy.
  • Strategy: How do you want relationships with your customers to change? By answering this question, you can plan for the desired changes and figure out how to measure them once is strategy is implemented.
  • Technology: What applications should you build?

Creating and implementing a strategy is challenging because there are few precedents and role models to follow. It is important to be aware of the challenges and be prepared to fix them. Many sources of failure relate to the four elements of the POST process – failures in assessing people’s tendencies, a weak definition of objectives, failure to think through strategy, and poor technology implementation. When problems arise go back to POST. Diagnosing how a social initiative is failing is the first step to fixing the problem. Each company must adopt the tactics that are right for its customers and its way of doing business and adapt as the technologies change.

There are five primary objectives that companies successfully pursue in the groundswell. You should select the one that best matches the objectives of your company as a whole:

  1. Listening
  2. Talking
  3. Energizing
  4. Supporting
  5. Embracing

These objectives are already linked to familiar business functions within your company, except that they can also focus on the engagement with customers and include more communication – especially communication between customers. Your strategy should be designed from the start to focus on a primary objective, and it is progress toward that objective that you should measure, which in return will help you be able to measure the return on your groundswell investment.

In applications for business, the people side is even more important because the people you engage with have a parallel role within their companies. In business-to-business settings, picking an objective first is still the best practice. You can listen to, talk energize, support, or embrace your business customers – business people – just as you would consumers.


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