Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Forrester Research's Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff is the best book on social media I've ever read, and it may be the best book ever written on the subject.
1. It's current. Books on social media by nature almost can't be current. Everything is blogged or twittered one day, forgotten the next. Yet this book has some staying power, and you can give it to your boss or your client feeling reassured that even if they don't get around to reading it for six months, it'll still be valuable when they do.
2. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff write the book like authors, not analysts, even though there's plenty of number-crunching with meaty take-aways. The human stories that illustrate each point provide protagonists you can identify with.
3. If you're new to social media, you'll appreciate a lot of the how-to material. If you're a pro, you'll appreciate how to do it even better and some of the more advanced material in the book.
4. The technographics, discussed frequently on the Groundswell blog and in the analysts' presentations, are useful. I've already used these for planning client campaigns to at least check if I'm on the right track or inspire some new thinking. If you read the book, the technographics tool on the Groundswell site becomes even more intuitive, although the site has enough info to get value out of it. It's amazing how much Forrester's giving away.
5. You get breakdowns of return on investment metrics of an executive's corporate blog, ratings and reviews, and a community support forum, figures which are hard to find elsewhere and can provide good benchmarks for related scenarios you may encounter.
6. The book offers thoughtful answers to some of the more important questions. How can you tell if a new technology has staying power? Why do people participate with social media? How do you energize your customers? When should you use blogs, social networks, and other media technologies?
Is the book perfect? Not quite. My biggest complaint is that it doesn't dive deep enough into what goes wrong and how some campaigns could have been better. They mention a Special K community on weight management that had a promising start but soon fizzled. Why?
I'm reminded of the chapter heading from Richard Farson's Management of the Absurd: "We learn not from our failures but from our successes - and the failures of others." Farson goes on, "While we may think we are motivated by hearing about the successes of others, believe it or not, little is more encouraging or energizing than learning about or witnessing another's failure, especially if it is an expert who is failing." I wish there were a few more failures to learn from along with the hits.
Outside of that though, this book's an outright success, one I'll be recommending to colleagues, clients, and anyone else who will listen.