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Groundswell: a Story About Lost Influence

Has traditional advertising and public relations lost its prior influence on the public? That was the overriding question that the authors of the book "Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies" left me to consider.

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, both of Forrester Research, have written a balanced perspective regarding the implications of social technologies impact within the marketplace. Granted, this is the type of commentary that can be interpreted in several different ways.

That said, as mass-media buyers apply their legacy skills in measuring impressions and imprints, you can't help but wonder if those metrics -- and therefore the results being reported -- have any meaningful relevance or benefit to advertisers.

High Price of Mass-Media Irrelevance

Likewise, when assessing the results of traditional public relations investments, if the vast majority of people that are exposed to the carefully crafted content have learned to disregard the message because the source, the communication style and the delivery medium is considered suspect -- does it matter if anyone is keeping score?

When media analysis captures irrelevant data, how can decision makers validate a return on investment? It's not a rhetorical question. Those spending billions on the radio, television and print media really don't know the answer.

Moreover, while advertising and PR professionals ponder how they are going to rationalize a continuation of the status quo -- and get through just one more account review without being fired by their client -- the collective sphere of industrial-age influence peddling (otherwise known as mass-media marketing) is in turmoil.

Low-Cost Influence of Personal Media

Using technologies like blogs and wikis, discussion forums and online reviews, consumers are taking charge of their own experience and getting what they need -- information, support, ideas, products and bargaining power -- from each other. Moreover, they're growing increasingly immune to the previously effective forms of deceptive corporate influence.

The authors say this phenomenon -- that they call the groundswell -- has created a permanent shift in the way the world works. Li and Bernoff believe that most companies see it as a threat -- to some it's a frontal assault on the very essence of their prior marketing practices.

Clearly, there was a time when the world was a much simpler place to sell inferior products and services, without interference -- when marketing spin could be pumped into the receptive minds of the eager masses. Not so today. Everyone with access to the Internet has the means to expose any and all misdeeds.

An Upside for Conversation and Community

Oh, I nearly forgot, for those few marketers who willingly choose to separate themselves from the past, there is a tremendous upside opportunity to engage customers -- and potential customers -- in an authentic and meaningful dialogue.

Retire your spin-doctors, hop aboard the Cluetrain and join the human conversations already flourishing in online communities of interest. Got it? Or, do you still have questions and concerns? That's OK, apparently you're not alone -- according to Li and Bernoff's research.

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