Last byte | Social technologies are here to stay

A conversation with author Josh Bernoff

Author Josh Bernoff

Negative comments and opinions can spread like wildfire across the Internet
through blogs, product reviews and other social technologies. For businesses that
want to maintain a positive image, social media might seem to do more harm
than good. But the premise of "Groundswell: Winning In a World Transformedby Social Technologies" (Harvard Business School Press, 2008), by Charlene Li
and Josh Bernoff, is that companies can harness social-networking tools to
improve their business and better meet customer needs. The two Forrester
Research analysts have developed a guide businesses can use to take advantage
of social media. Bernoff spoke recently with Washington Technology Deputy
Editor William Welsh about social technology and the business world.

Q: What's the premise of "Groundswell"?

It's about a social trend of people
connecting with and drawing strength from
each other online and how that threatens corporations.
What we tried to do is put together
the frameworks [for corporations] to take
advantage of this phenomenon.

We give people resources and case studies.
We lay out the strategy for how to plan for
this world. We take people from the point
that they were dazzled to a point where they
say, "I've got what I need."

Q: How does social networking affect the
business world?

There are really two impacts: internal
and external. Externally, it means that you
are no longer in control of your brand. It
means that people who decide they have different
ways of thinking about your brand ? or
detractors ? are going to be connecting and
talking with each other. If you have a bad
service reputation, you can no longer isolate
the complainers. Externally, it means you are
no longer in control of your clients.

Internally, it means employees are using
these technologies to be more efficient.
It empowers them for creativity and

Q: What were some of the most surprising
findings of your research?

Some think everyone is going to be
participating in social technologies, while
others think it is a flash in the pan. Both perspectives
are wrong.

It turns out it is a complex ecosystem.
Fewer than 20 percent are creating content,
but many others are reacting to that content,
and nearly half of the online population is
touched by it in some way.

Q: How widely are social-networking tools
being used in government?

You are going to see a lot of connections
among your customers. In a business-
to-business setting or government setting,
customers have something in common
because they typically have the same job and
many of the same needs. It is a [mistake] to
believe it is only a consumer phenomenon.

Q: What tools are people using?

We found a wide variety of tools.
Blogs are good for updating people regularly
on your products and marketing. Facebook
can help you energize enthusiasts. Even simple
technologies, such as discussion forums,
ratings and reviews, allow you to tap into the
community pulse.

Q: How have the older baby boomers reacted
to social networking?

They participate less than
other consumers, but still, about 33
percent are touched by this technology
in some way, typically just by seeing
it. So to build an application for
them, you have to supply a lot of the
content yourself. This usage will
grow. You have to keep in mind that
we used to be startled when a grandmother
was using the Internet, but
now it's pretty typical.

Q: What else would you say about
"Groundswell" and social networking?

This is the biggest trend to affect
business since the Internet came along. You
really can't ignore this because your
customers are participating.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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