The Groundswell and social media integration

Towards an integrated view of social media (status 2017) part 2: Groundswell

This is part 2 (part 1 here) in (what I hope will be) a series of posts based on my 2013 thesis “From mass media to digital dialogue: Towards an integrated view of social media.”These posts try to follow up: where do we stand in 2017 vs 2013? The thesis was aimed at answering the questions: What challenges are organizations facing when integrating social media, and why? How can they overcome those challenges? 

The Groundswell and social media integration

One of the cornerstones of my thesis was the idea of the groundswell, based on the 2011 book by Li & Bernoff: Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies (Forrester Research, Inc.) (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it), and their framework for analyzing social maturity.

The groundswell is “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each another, rather than from companies.”

‘Groundswell thinking’ means finding ways of dealing with this trend regardless of how the individual technologies change.  With its strong focus on strategy, culture, and behavior rather than on technology, the groundswell provides strong grounds for analysis of the challenges organizations face when using and integrating social media.

Essentially, the groundswell covers the idea of how organizations are less in control, must find new ways of dealing with the modern consumer, and figure out how to harness the power of social media in order to more effectively manage their communication and marketing efforts and reach the new, modern consumer.

Why do people participate in social media and the groundswell? Well, according to other researchers (Baird & Parasnis (2011)):

“Customers are willing to interact with businesses if they believe it is to their benefit, feel they can trust the company and decide social media is the right channel to use to get the value they seek.”

Combining a variety of theories suggest that consumers use social media to satisfy personal and creative needs. Indeed, the Groundswell is described as the intersection of technology, people, and economy, portrayed below to show my personal understanding as related to organizational communication:

People’s desires to connect, the emergence of new interactive, social technology, and organizations with an increasing interest in the economics of being online, have created a new era the groundswell. The term ‘groundswell’ is used almost interchangeably with social media or web 2.0, referring to the trend and behavior of social media rather than the technology or tool.

Is the Groundswell still relevant?

Though no longer new, the groundswell understanding of social media is inspirational. Essentially, it covers the idea that organizations are less in control and must figure out how to harness the power of social media in order to more effectively manage their communication and marketing efforts in order to reach the new, modern consumer.

Lots of companies have adopted the idea of groundswell thinking under different names, one local example being a company like Falcon, who changed their names from Falcon Social to a few years ago in order to emphasize their focus on the complete customer experience, not just the one on social media. With time, groundwell and social maturity has been taken it into a broader, digital business perspective, with the discussion now being omnichannel, digital transformation, social business…. etc.

The idea of Omnichannel, pursued by many, (in Denmark i.e. Sitecore, Agillic, SAS insitute, IBM, etc) also embraces the groundswell idea, with its focus on breaking down silos, thus ensuring a smooth, streamlined customer experience across channels and touchpoints. This requires organization, resources, and culture to be aligned across business units (silos), based on, among others, a measurement culture (data collection and data analysis). One might argue that the social media maturity scale (described in the coming sections) could easily substitute in other digital business buzzwords and still be highly relevant. In fact, I may try to do just that in a later blogpost.

Social maturity and the empowered organization

In 2013, the literature lacked research on how organizations should integrate social media in a way that made sense for the individual organization.

Things have changes since then. Social media, the technology and the mindset, has become a part of the organizational digital markting toolbox and is here to stay, at least for the time being.  Budgeting financial and personnel resources for online advertising, social marketing, analytics, etc. is no longer something most marketing department have to argue for with the c-suite. We no longer ask the questions “should we be on social?”, but maybe more relevantly ask “how much money should we spend?”

But 5 years ago, we were just being introduced to custom audiences, newsfeed, and company pages, and we were still discussing the best way for organizations to approach social media.

By now we can agree that social media integration has as much, if not more, to do with integrating social media into the business structure and embracing the groundswell mindset, than it does with simply using social media for a specific marketing function, in combination with traditional media, in the promotional mix.

The groundswell approach to social media integration matches existing business functions with the new social media, groundswell objectives, expanding outside of the promotional mix.


So with this approach, social maturity is based on how well social and groundswell thinking is integrated into different business areas in the organizations: Research (brand & market), Marketing, Sales, HR & Support, and Development.

5 years ago the idea that social could be used outside of PR, branding, and the promotional mix was groundbreaking, but now, we use social technologies like Slack, facebook for work, twitter, youtube, etc, just as much for employer branding, internal work processes and support as we do for PR, branding, an promotion. Content marketing and big data is becoming big business, as organizations are getting better and better at collecting data on customers and products in order to specifically target not just their advertising dollars but also their R&D efforts.

But back to the original question –  how do we determine the social maturity of each business function and groundswell objective?

Groundswell Social Maturity dimensions

The groundswell dimensions for reaching social maturity include five stages, each describing the level of integration, or social maturity, throughout the organization. These dimensions are: experience, resources and organization, processes, measurement, commitment, and culture.

Using the figure below it is possible to classify organizations according to the social media maturity scale across business functions, and in that way evaluate how they are using and integrating social media, where they are facing challenges, and where these challenges stem from.

this picture has only includes the first two dimensions (experience and resources), but I can share the remaining in the comments. Or, even better, read the book. It might be outdated on some accounts, but a lot of the ideas are still good.

We see maturity stages ranging from Dormant to Empowering, with examples for each maturity stage (based on the 2009/2011 definitions). Looking at these stages is where you can see some of the bigger changes from 2012 to 2017, and where a lot of the bigger organizations have truly moved to higher stages.

Take a look, for example, at “resources & organization,” where successful companies are now truly moving into the empowered stage, encouraging employees and rewarding them for using social technology in their work as well as for thinking of new ways to integrate social technology in general. Back in 2012, even major companies were still in the testing and coordinating stages, having only just moved out of the dormant stage (see Bonus graphic at the end of this post).


A skilled consultant might use a framework such as this to provide a qualitative analysis of social maturity in an organization, whereas an internal communications or social media manager might use the ideas here to convince their boss to give their department a bigger budget next year. I’m sure some of the skilled consultancy houses also have some of their own, adapted versions of this framework in their own toolboxes.


Bonus: This was the framework and model used in my thesis for analyzing the social maturity – and hence the challenges – of 4 major Danish organizations back in 2012. A lot had changed since then. You can see a brief summary below: 

social maturity thesis 2012


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