Two of the best-known names in Silicon Valley have new books out: Charlene Li (twitter: charleneli) and Guy Kawasaki (twitter: guykawasaki). Both fall into socialmedia.biz’s sweet spot, so here are quick reviews.
Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, is the definitive guide to how businesses are grappling with the social media revolution. The revolution is still in its early stages, and the old order still clings tenaciously to power — we’re living in the throes of transformative change, which can be at once exhilarating and disorienting.
Li and Bernoff provide a framework for describing these fundamental changes, which they call "the groundswell," and they do so chiefly within the context of marketing rather than sociology or politics. While this is a book for businesses (brands) and the people who do their handiwork (marketers and consultants), anyone who’s interested in better understanding the tsunami of social participation that is subsuming our institutions will find lots to absorb in these pages.
Written in accessible, no-nonsense prose, Groundswell breaks its narrative its three parts: what the social changes are all about; strategies for taking advantage of these changes, and an assessment of how these changes are transforming businesses.
Li and Bernoff, analysts at Forrester when this was written, offer dozens of rich examples of the groundswell at work. (Bernoff is still there. Li left to begin a social media strategy company, and I’ve known Charlene for years from the speaking circuit.) And it is through these concrete accounts that Groundswell shines most brightly.
There are the well-known horror stories, of course, like Jeff Jarvis dealing with Dell Hell and Dell’s brilliant response. And Rob Master’s masterful Dove Campaign for Real Beauty at Unilever.
But most of the lessons are less well known and thus especially relevant in informing a business’s approach to social media: Josh Bancroft almost single-handedly moving Intel in a new direction with Intelpedia (see Business Week article). Intuit’s wise decision not to create a software wiki or TurboTax wiki but a tax information wiki. Best Buy almost accidentally enabling employees to help each other — and in turn increase productivity — through its Blue Shirt Nation program.
Like top-tier analysts do, Li and Bernoff capably synthesize these and other lessons into handy bullet-point lists that businesses should laminate and pass out to every department head. For example, in the section "tips for successful blogging," the authors advise:
1. Start by listening.
2. Determine a goal for the blog.
3. Estimate the ROI (return on investment).
4. Develop a plan.
6. Develop an editorial process.
7. Design the blog and its connection to your site.
8. Develop a marketing plan so people can find the blog.
9. Remember, blogging is more than writing.
10. Final advice: be honest.
By and large, that’s a list that would serve any blogger well, not just corporate bloggers.
Groundswell deserves a wide readership, not just for explaining the social tsunami now engulfing us in down-to-earth terms but for presenting a loud and clear wakeup call to corporate America: Get with the program, before the swift, the nimble and the socially adept eat your lunch.
I’ve long followed the writings of Guy Kawasaki, the heralded Apple evangelist-emeritus-for-life. When we finally met at the recent Web 2.0 Summit, he surprised me by handing me a copy of his fresh-off-the-presses book, Reality Check: The irreverent guide to outsmarting, outmanaging and outmarketing your competition. So disclosure: I have a soft spot for authors who know how to leverage the blogosphere.
A reality check is exactly what the tech industry needs at this time of economic turmoil, and Kawasaki provides it in droves, spinning out bits of wisdom gleaned from 20 years as an industry insider and venture capitalist. Indeed, this is a book filled with bits, from the multitude of snappy 3-page chapters to the torrent of bullet points that rain down upon the Short Attention Span Generation.
Reality Check is geared chiefly toward newbie entrepreneurs who want to know the rules of the road in the Valley: the rules of how to put together a PowerPoint presentation, the rules of what to say (and not say) at a job interview or a VC meeting, the art of bootstrapping your startup, the art of creating a community or influencing people. Kawasaki has seen and heard it all, and while the book could have benefited from more anecdotes attached to real names, he offers enough advice in these 474 pages that even wizened tech veterans could glean some pointers.
The book is sprinkled with Q&As conducted with tech executives and thought leaders, and one wonders if some choices would have been different if the opportunity arose (for instance, I read the interview with the head of Yahoo!’s global human resource team on the day Yahoo! laid off 1,500 workers). But for every near-miss there are more than a few gems.
The author taps into the Zeitgeist of the Valley by reminding us that the founders behind many of the seminal companies of our time, like Google, started out by trying to solve a problem, not trying to launch a multinational corporation. Start small, stay simple, underhire, be conservative in your projections. It’s at once Zenlike, lyrical and practical. Kawasaki is also a funny guy, lacing the book with wit and a liberal dose of the word "asshole."
While people running small companies, department heads, team managers and coders seem the most likely audience for Reality Check, big brands could take away a few lessons as well. Kathleen Gasperini, co-founder of Label Networks, observes smartly in one passage:
Millions of dollars are wasted only to result in brand backlash, which takes millions more to undo. Many large brands or agencies can’t see beyoind the thirty-second TV pitch. "But how do I reach them?" they ask. There are so many ways. You can walk right past a big idea if you have your cultural blinders on.
These top-down companies are running with blinders on into a future that has a huge cliff. Grass roots and bottom-up is the most authentic way to go, and you can do this much faster than in the past, given the speed of communication and viral marketing. But you can’t try to be cool and grassroots if it’s not true and real. Grass roots takes being out in the marketplace—being there, in their lives, and relevant.
I could have used a time-travel version of Reality Check before negotiating options in my last startup venture. Kawasaki offers "guydlines" of what to look for in an options package for someone working in a startup that has raised a first round of venture capital of $1-3 million with 15 or fewer employees:
Senior engineer: 0.3-0.7 percent
Midlevel engineer: 0.2-0.4 percent
Product manager: 0.2-0.3 percent
Chief architect: 1-1.5 percent
Vice president: 1.5-3 percent
CEO: 5-10 percent
One bit of advice that I strongly disagree with appears in the chapter on blogging. "Think of your blog as a product," Kawasaki writes. Don’t express "your spontaneous thoughts and feelings." Perhaps someone as high profile as Kawasaki needs to guard his public image, but for the rest of us in the blogosphere, honest and spontaneous is far superior to regimented and productized.
So, in summary: Planning to start a new venture or trying to reinvent a hidebound corporate culture? Read Reality Check to kick-start your sensibilities and heed Kawasaki’s lifetime of business lessons distilled in these fast-paced pages.
J.D. Lasica was editor of the Sacramento Bee’s Books section — back when it had a Books section.