What do Jurassic Park and Groundswell have in Common?

Have you seen Jurassic Park? If so, you might remember Dr. Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) diatribe about the dangers of doing something just because you can:

“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you want to sell it!”

How does this quote relate in any way to Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies? Maybe it’s just me, but I see a direct correlation.

Groundswell is about social computing (I, a non-analyst, prefer the term social media) and how it’s shaping not only the personal lives of many individuals around the globe, but also the way companies do business. It’s not that social media is anything new; I’ve been an active participant on numerous online forums for over 10 years now. I’ve made money, formed close friendships, gotten jobs and learned countless things—all through different social media applications.

Lately businesses have begun to tap into the groundswell—“a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other rather than from traditional institutions like corporations”--to enhance customer relations, build brand loyalty and, of course, make money. These days hardly a day goes by where some company or another isn’t discussing their web 2.0 strategy and taking the plunge—in most cases, “because everyone else is doing it.” Or the opposite—doing nothing for fear of opening up a giant can of worms that, once released, will run rampant and ruin the company’s reputation or slash profits.

The thing is, as the book aptly points out—doing it just because others are doing it or because it’s possible isn’t reason enough to incorporate web 2.0 applications into a business strategy. Just as bringing carnivorous dinosaurs back into existence just because it was possible without thinking about the consequences wasn’t the brightest of ideas, jumping on the social media bandwagon just because everyone’s doing it isn’t reason enough to do it. Obviously the consequences of starting a blog, establishing a presence on Facebook or randomly beginning Tweeting are nowhere near those of setting loose a bunch of killer dinosaurs; however, the underlying concept is the same: maybe you should think about it before you do it.

The beauty of Groundswell is that it lays out in explicit detail the RIGHT way to develop a social media strategy. Forget just randomly tossing around a few ideas in a conference room then rushing back to the computer to start blogging or start a Facebook page; Groundswell provides hard data about the ways people are using social media and shows you how to develop a strategy that taps into your specific customers’ behaviors and needs. Bernoff and Li go a step further than telling stories about what other companies have done; they provide a tool businesses can use to assess their own customers’ social media behaviors in order to develop a strategy that taps into those individuals’ behaviors and needs.

And of course, in addition to the facts and figures and case studies, Li and Bernoff give a very comprehensive overview of the groundswell technologies and how and why to use them.

In short, Groundswell is by far the best and most comprehensive book I’ve read about social media and I honestly think it’s a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in web 2.0. Forget Good to Great or those other yawners that every company has employees read before the annual retreat/brainstorming session; Groundswell is much more interesting, informative and pivotal to the way companies will be doing business from here on out.