PART 1: Conversation with Charlene Li

by Marianne Richmond on April 16, 2007

I had the opportunity to spend some time talking to Charlene Li in between sessions at the recent Forrester Marketing Forum. Charlene, along with Josh Bernoff, is in the process of writing a book, The Groundswell: How People with Social Technologies are Changing Everything. Its a great title and really the title and the other eight words in the subtitle capture so many thoughts about the current and future state of corporate marketing and marketers.

 They explain that a groundswell is "a spontaneous movement of people connecting, using online tools, taking charge of their own experience, and getting what they need – information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power – from each other;" it’s about change whether it is called social computing, the social web, web 2.0 or the conversation economy.

The most important message in a long list of important messages is that social technologies have already changed everything and to quote Business Week from May 2005: Look past the yakkers, hobbyists, and political mobs. Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Our advice: Catch up…or catch you later"

Now, having said that, Charlene and Josh say that their book will help make sense of the Groundswell and help you (yes YOU) "deal with it." And this "understand it and help you deal with it" is what will make the difference between this book and most of the other books on blogging and social media and what makes Forrester Research and Forrester Conferences so valuable….not only do you walk away learning something, you walk away knowing how to use what you have learned.

So, I mentioned to Charlene that I had noticed that there were virtually no package goods marketers attending the Marketing Forum which in my opinion seemed to reflect their slow adoption of social media. This led to a discussion about corporate social media adoption in general in light of the reality of the groundswell. What is the hurdle that corporations must cross to participate in social media in a meaningful way?

Charlene articulates some of this as simply a failure to understand the value of social media….taking this a step further, to being able to understand how to develop an ROI of blogging; Charlene has published a report which addresses this aptly named, The ROI of Blogging. The truly outstanding part of this is that she applies a perspective that demystifies social media measurement: Begin with your goals, quantify actual costs, assign value to the benefits, evaluate risks, determine liklihood for the risks and estimate costs. Yes of course, its conversational media, relationship building, and you can’t buy eyeballs anymore BUT there are real costs to setting up and writing a blog (time is money), the benefits (such as lowered call center costs) can be measured as can risks (employee reveals trade secret, stock price drops).

The statement that the costs of social media cannot be determined and that the results cannot be measured is one of my "hot buttons"….its really basic: decide what you are trying to accomplish and how you will determine success or failure and assign a value. Social media is different than traditional media, and that cannot be stressed enough….however blogs still need a target, a message, and content that drives readership.

However, with that thought in mind, we discussed corporate blog resistance and our shared belief that everything has already changed so corporations need to figure out how they are going to participate, not if.

Charlene has developed a very compelling visual, the Participation Ladder and the term Social Technographics to help corporations understand the way that consumers are already participating in social media and how they will continue to participate in social media..

To Be Continued in Part 2….

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