Listening to the Groundswell

As we discussed in my last post, users of the groundswell can fall into seven categories. In case anyone forgot what the groundswell is, it is defined by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff as “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 9). This week, we will explore how we can listen to the groundswell.

Despite what marketers have said over the years about creating and owning the brands that customers love, it is actually the customers who own it and the brand “is whatever your [sic] customer says it is” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 78). Most consumers will communicate with others in the groundswell what they think of various brands and it is up to the company’s to listen to them. While some argue that companies fail to ever listen to what the consumers want, companies actually spend lots of time and money on listening and figuring out what the consumers want through market research.  In fact, “companies pay over $15 billion annually for market research” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 79).

8f71a0ba3a499fc2a79ea421b5cb757f.jpgTypes of Market Research

One way a company can conduct market research is by paying for syndicated research sources to obtain answers to similar questions that have been asked before.  Syndicated research “is a valuable tool for mapping trends but it can’t tell you what people are thinking” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 80). Another method is through surveys. Surveys can be conducted through direct mail, face to face, over the phone or on the internet.  However, it will only provide you with information to questions you thought of to ask, so there’s a high probability that you might forget to ask some of the more/most important questions. Moreover, they are costly– “typically cost at least $10,00o…expert analysis can cost over $100,000” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 80).  Finally, companies can run a focus group. Focus groups allow companies to ask the participants a variety of questions and see their reactions live.

Listening Strategies

  • Private Communities
    A private community is essentially the same as running an on-going focus group. One of the largest providers of private communities is Communispace but others have also emerged such as MrketTools and Passenger (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 82). Elle Magazine has their own private brand community — ELLE Inner Circle through Passenger’s FUEL platform. Lauren Meuhlthaler, senior director of brand developments at ELLE, considers their ELLE Inner Circle members as their most trusted advisors who they rely on “to share their opinions on everything from new brand initiatives, to what they think about our advertiser’s ad campaigns before they launch” (ELLE Cast Study, 2015). In exchange for their options and input, users are treated to exclusive information as well as prizes. She believes “it’s a true give and take relationship that results in a very active and ongoing dialogue” (ELLE Vase Study, 2015). There are currently 5000 members, the average demographic of users is 25 to 34, and the engaged level is from 50-90% (ELLE Cast Study, 2015). To get a better idea of how ELLE Magazine used Passenger’s FUEL platform to not only gain insights on how to better understand their audience but also to generate data for their advertisers check out the video below of ELLE’s Customer Community Success Story.

  • Brand Monitoring
    Companies can monitor their brand by hiring companies to listen to the internet and produce reports on what their customers are saying about them in the groundswell (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 82). ELLE Magazine’s social media team consists of their Social Media Editor, Kate Winick. Her role includes “strategic responsibilities as well as actual community management for all of the social properties for the website” (Dragon, 2014). She spends time monitoring the comments on ELLE’s website which are actually integrated with their Facebook page. Having this feature has allowed “users to flow seamlessly between the website and the social media platform” (Dragon, 2014). In addition to Facebook, ELLE is also on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Regardless of the method your company chooses to listen to your customers, you will have to react to the information gathered. The following are six reasons why companies should listen to the groundswell:

  1. Find our what your brand stands for.
    Determine if the message your brand is currently sending out is the one you want. If it isn’t, what is different and what can you do to change it?
  2. Understand how buzz if shifting.
    Once you’ve started listening to the groundswell, don’t stop. Listen to the changes that are occurring and you’ll be able to determine where the problems are so that you can address them early on.
  3. Save research money; increase research responsiveness.
    When a company develops and uses a private community, they are constantly conducting research at a much more efficient and cost effective level, in comparison to regular surveys or focus groups.
  4. Find the source of influence in your market.
    Determine who are the ones talking about your brand and it’s products or services. Influencers can be bloggers but it can also be content that your brand has created and has gone viral. Once a brand successfully determines who their influencers are then they can figure out ways to cultivate them (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 94).
  5. Manage PR crises.
    Brand monitoring is extremely beneficial when it comes to hearing about crises or other negative news early on so that it allows brands to respond “before things get out of hand” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 94)
  6. Generate new product and marketing ideas.
    Customers are given an opportunity to voice their opinions and offer ideas on how products can be improved. This sort of information would essentially come to the brand for free.

Listening Plan

What do we do after we decide to start listening to the groundswell? Well, brands can start by looking at the Social Technographic Profile and determine if their “customers are in the groundswell” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 95). Brands should start monitoring their brands on a smaller scale since brand monitoring can develop into multi-million dollar projects (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 95). Moreover, it is important the private community and brand monitoring vendors your brand chooses posseses the ability and experience required to meet your needs. Finally, it is vital that the information you’ve spent the time and money to obtain gets used.

Dragon, R. (2014, June 16). The Big Brand Theory: Social Strategies. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

ELLE Case Study. (2015). Retrieved February 11, 2017, from

Li, C. & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, USA: Forrester Research Inc.

N/A (n.d.). Market Research comic [digital image]. Retrieved from




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