Yes, Companies Should Participate In The Social World

Last Updated Mar 12, 2008 9:46 AM EDT

It's clear that companies can't control what is said about them in the social world. Blogs, consumer ratings, Facebook movements, all create pools of consumer opinion about the products and services we sell.

So what is the strategic call for corporate leaders? Can you afford to play in this arena? Can you afford not to?

Forrester researcher Josh Bernoff chimes in with the opinion that companies really don't have a choice but to play.

If you're in a company, your company can participate. In fact, you must participate. Your customers and prospects are connecting and talking about your products and your company right now -- this is what we call the groundswell. You need to be a part of the conversation. You might start a blog, you might start a Facebook group, you might start a community, or begin twittering, but until you start connecting as a corporate employee, you won't understand what's going on out there. And it can and will bite you.
The key for companies entering this mysterious space, however, and for corporate employees, is to start with a set of business objectives, just as you would with any initiative. And be authentic. Speak about your products and services honestly. But be ready to have a conversation.

Bernoff and fellow Forrester princial analyst Charlene Li have just written a book, Groundswell, that discusses the impact of the social world on businesses and how businesses can influence, although not control, what is said about them in the digital universe. I've just started reading it, and it's quite powerful.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.