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on October 8, 2010
Note: this review is an edited version of a longer book review found on my blog at [...].

Empowered is a welcome follow-up to Groundswell Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. It takes the perspective of the individual within the company who steps up to the challenges posed by organizational realities (and nonsense), to do the "right thing" for the company and/or the customer. Bernoff and Schadler call these people Highly Empowered Resourceful Operatives -- HEROs. The message is: you need HEROs. So let's talk about how the book tells this story, and what it might mean to you.

The book starts with the bold assertion that you need HEROs in your company to fix the flaws in the way you interact, ignore, or infuriate your customers. Moreover, you need to support your HEROs, even if this means breaking a few processes here and there. This assertion is then supported by a series of wonderful stories about the impact that influential customers and heroic employees have on huge multi-billion $ companies. You'll recognize the brand names throughout the book (such as Maytag and BestBuy), and you may already know some of the stories. You may also recognize the gracious mention of many vendors in the Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 space. The big take-away in the first section is the clarification of the 4 technology drivers that amplify changes affecting marketing, customer support, and corporate technology. These are: mobile computing, pervasive video, cloud computing, and social technologies.

The analysis is on-target and crisp; highlighting the issues and implications of each. Note: At this point the careful reader might ask if the assertion "You need HEROs" is truly supported by the stories. I'd suggest another question is "who is the 'you' that the authors are talking about?" So let's read on and see.

The next section addresses some of the projects that HEROs create and provides a worksheet for how to predictively evaluate the value of the effort. This section is full of great stories from Zappos, ETrade, Intuit, UPS, Ford, Microsoft, and a few other familiar brands. Unfortunately the authors do not show how they would apply the worksheet inputs to any of the cases -- they only refer to the output. So you get a worksheet that seems reasonable and helpful, but I'm not sure it had been battle-tested. But, you can help battle-test the worksheet by using it. And you can find it on the website associated with the book (at [...]).

The section continues with more well-written stories of companies that allowed HERO-ic individuals to do the "right" thing in the face of corporate challenges. There is also a decent amount of supportive data that Forrester collected to add quantifiable scope to their assertions. You'll probably recognize the "United Breaks Guitars" story. Each story add a slightly different angle to the main point of the book - that being: Corporations get in their own way of great service, great marketing, and great employee engagement, but new tools and behaviors, along with a HERO-empowering mindset can help fix this.

The final section focuses on the impact that HEROs have on the organization. And thankfully the authors address the fact that not all change is going to go over well. The reality is that HEROs make mistakes. But the authors argue (effectively) that mitigating the extent and negative impact of the mistakes is usually pretty achievable, and the benefits usually outweigh the risks. The authors take a clear stand, even though they disclose that companies will struggle taking their advice. They did not present the anti-case studies of failed HEROs or of employees who get themselves fired by trying to be HEROs 'cuz they read about it in a hot business book. As with most HERO epics, the story has a hopeful ending.

As I closed the book I felt this was a great read, well written, and worthwhile. The stories carried the message. Forrester's data supported the message. And the practical advice throughout provided tangible value to the message. But for some strange reason, I could not give it 5 stars. Perhaps because I have over-inflated expectations based on my familiarity with the authors and the topic. Sorry if that's unfair.

Here's where it fell short for me. My expectation was that the authors would take a sharper edge at the Pollyanna syndrome where we get so dazzled by Social Media that we forget to challenge the stories. The fact that someone might have a few thousand twitter followers, is alone, not enough to say that a few thousand people actually read tweets from that person. Many twitter follower are non-people, or are people who don't read your tweets. The fact that someone you admire really hates some brand and blogs about it might make for fun reading -- but to what extent does that really impact sales or stock price? I believe 100% approval usually mean "boring". You probably want to have a least 5% of the people in the world upset with you -- otherwise you are not doing enough. So I expected to see the hard data demonstrating the extent that Maytag (or United, etc.) really suffered from some negative blogs. Maybe it actually benefited from this book mention? Maybe sales are really impacted by the impression we have of the salesperson in the store, not the articulate blogger who had a some random bad experience. So I expected more data, and more critical perspective on the proof-points. It was present, I wanted more.

I also hoped to see a very clear articulation of the three areas that the book covered -- 1. brand impression 2. customer service, and 3. employee collaboration. These all benefit from HEROs, but the cases are very different, and I hoped the authors would delineate these in a very crisp manner. Again, it was present, but I wanted more.

I also hoped that they would make very clear to whom they target their message. Let me take a stab: these authors typically speak to, and about, $1B+ companies. So if you are the CMO in such a company -- this book is your task list and you have to read it. There are many such companies: banks, airlines, tech-giants, utilities, media properties, big-box retailers, and others. But let's say you are the CMO of a small business that runs a chain of auto-repair shops? or you run a dry cleaner? How does the HERO message work for you? Do you have a brand that could be impacted by a blogger? Do people think that the best way to get your attention is to tweet? Maybe. But we'd all understand that the approach would differ substantially.

We love reading about heroes, since they give us something to admire, and aspire to. But I wonder if the book would have been even better if the lasting message was how to make sure that HERO behavior becomes more viral and pervasive than hero stories. After all, there is no Superman. We each have to be the HERO in our own little corner of the world. Companies don't need the solo, inspirational social media HERO that we can use as case studies for great blog posts and business books. Companies need everyone to be a hero. "Empowered" is the next needed step -- but I suspect there's more to this story.
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on September 14, 2010
Josh Bernoff has done it again! Empowered is a fascinating look at how employees with great ideas in your organization can be encouraged to innovate and transform your business to better serve customers. As it says in the book, with the rise of social technologies, customer service is the new marketing. And by following the clearly-outlined process in this book, managers can work with employee innovators (HEROs, they're called in the book) and IT stakeholders to allow customers to be better served, so they talk about your business in positive ways online. I loved all the case studies and practical examples that show how this can work in the real world.

I'm a social media consultant. I was in a meeting with a client only yesterday, and I found myself referencing and pulling this book out multiple times, referencing the handy checklists, charts, and questions. My clients can't wait to get their own copies! Truly, this is a resource that every business person needs.
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on September 24, 2010
Amazon should read:
"If you like Mashable, you'll LOVE Empowered!"

Pretty standard book if you keep up with the social web at all. When the author says "Stop me if you've heard this one" and proceeds to tell the United Breaks Guitars story, it should have been my cue to put down the book.

There are some good concepts, but I think they way they try to build off of the POST strategy by forcing another 4-letter acronym into the picture doesn't work for me.

I was also struck by the high amount of "popular highlights" on the Kindle version. Typically, you see popular highlights once or twice a chapter. The first portion of this book was a literal dartboard, which was also a cue to me that this book might be more beginner-level. Seriously, the most popular highlight in the book is "To succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve customer problems." What a gem...

As far as my highlights and main takeaways, I enjoyed the tidbit that "people who talk about airlines are twice as likely to use Twitter", as well as the last 2 paragraphs of the book. If I had read those two items alone, I'd be content.

I'm thankful to the authors for offering this book for free on Kindle, because I would have been disappointed in paying $10 to read it. It will sit on my e-shelf next to Socialnomics in the "do not recommend to anyone with experience" area. If you're talking to a newbie, however, point them towards this and Groundswell as a great primer and intro.
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on September 14, 2010
I read "Empowered" over the September 11-12 weekend. Although I was already familiar with many of the concepts through "Groundswell," the "boom boom pow" of this edition was the HERO Compact: IT, managers, and highly empowered and resourceful operatives (HEROes).

In the authors' words, "technology populism" is not a fad: employees (and their end customers) are mastering new aspects of technology every day. Left unchecked, this innovation could result in chaos. The authors correctly note that "it must align with corporate strategy . . . leadership has to communicate its goals and strategies more effectively or there will be a lot of wasted innovation."

Pulling disenfranchised, rogue and locked-down employees into the HERO employees quadrant (acting more resourceful and feeling more empowered) is more than just pop psychology: it's a value generator and competitive differentiator (especially with Customer Service, where less than one in five employees are HEROes).

Another telling statement: "innovation is about speed (fast, cheap experiments and high velocity), collaboration (feedback from across the organization; a business strategy: a way to improve the productivity of people and teams and accelerate the flow of information throughout the company), and systems (software that supports innovation).

The "aha" moment was showing how the groundswell technology trends of smart mobile devices, pervasive video, cloud computing services, and social technology empower and serve customers, and develop workers in the process. To quote the book and Malcolm Harkins, chief information security officer at Intel, we need to "run toward the risk so [we] can shape it" -- and resist the urge to treat these fundamental shifts in the way business is conducted as a fad or a dot-com-like "blip" in the Information Age.

As great as "Groundswell" was, this book has eclipsed it in terms of sheer business value. Read it, share it, put it into practice. Your customers are already doing so.
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on September 28, 2010
Josh Bernoff's and Ted Schadler's, Empowered, is a nice balance-enjoyable read and an informative, thought-provoking challenge to businesses and brands. You get access to some of Forrester's industry-leading technographic research along with a compelling narrative that inspires you to think about the opportunities available in some new and exciting ways.

The point of Empowered is transformation-innovative people harnessing widely available, low-cost tools and technologies across the social and information landscape to revolutionize their business. And the authors use a lot of well-described examples to point out some of the low-hanging fruit already in the baskets of some smart, quick-thinking companies. But more importantly, Empowered shows businesses how to unleash HEROs (Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives) within companies to maximum effect. It is a framework for embracing the potential of resourceful people who are probably already working within your organization. And for all of you geeks out there, the authors make a strong case for empowering IT-the critical link in the chain that routinely gets dumped on and expected to deliver the magic.

If you're not interested in evolving your business or brand there's no need to read the book. But then again, if you're organization is not invested in change-constant, pervasive and always accelerating-you probably won't have much of a business to worry about anyway before long.

As an added bonus, it's a pretty easy read. Easily conquered over the course of a weekend or a couple of plane rides.

Ian Wolfman, cmo, imc²
Twitter @IMWolfman
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on February 22, 2012
>>>..."Empowered" & "Groundswell2011" ( Authors - Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff ) are MustReads & should be taken together for our Best Total Understanding!!!...First, There was "Groundswell2007", Second, was "Empowered" & Third, "Groundswell2011"!!!
>>>...Within "Empowered" is a section, Part 2, Chapter 4 > "Delivering Groundswell Customer Service"!...By Josh Bernoff, Ted Schadler: Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business
>>>...Within "Groundswell2011 is Part 3 - The Groundswell Transforms - 4 Chapters.
>>>...Chapter 11 - How Connecting with the Groundswell Transforms your Company.
>>>...Chapter 12 - The Groundswell Inside Your Company.
>>>...Chapter 13 - Attaining Social Maturity.
>>>...Within Chapter 13 is The Final Stage: Becoming Empowered & The Introduction Of "HEROes"( Highly Empowered & Resourceful Employees / Operatives )
>>>...Within "Empowered" is a Substantial Expansion On "HEROes" which covers 252+ pages, 3 Parts, 14 Chapters of Knowledge, Context, Content, etc.
>>>...Part 1 : 01 Chapter - HEROes.
>>>...Part 2 : 05 Chapters - What HEROes do.
>>>...Part 3 : 08 Chapters -The HERO-Powered Business.
>>>..."Empowered" closes with notes, acknowledgments, case indexes, index & about the authors - Josh Bernoff (Groundswell2011) & Ted Schadler.
>>>...Chapter 14 - The Future Of The Groundswell.
>>>...>>> A Suggestion <<< InvestPurchase "Empowered" & "Groundswell2011" For Your Best, Total Understanding!!!...NOW / TODAY...They Are Worth Your Time, Money & Use!!!...Carpe Diem / Seize The Day!!!...Michael!
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When Groundswell (Bernoff's first book) was first published, the title struck me as brilliant, because it assigned a broader meaning to a term that more and more people were using everyday. Social technologies were indeed leading to groundswells around the world, and those groundswells were changing industries and lives. With this latest book, Josh has once again managed to corral a term that may be familiar to us all, and give it a much deeper context and meaning. Not that the title is the only thing to learn from in Empowered - the book itself is a heavy hitter when it comes to taking Forrester's trademark research driven approach and making a case for how empowering your employees and customers can be the most transformative thing you do for your business. If your experience is like mine, you'll find the plentiful data and case study examples to be compelling - but what will really excite you is just how much the ammunition the book will offer you to make the case for empowering employees and customers to the rest of the world. (Review originally published on the Influential Marketing Blog)
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on August 2, 2013
A good book that is a fitting sequel to Groundswell: taking things one step further with the emphasis on the management challenges presented by HEROes (Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives), how to empower your employees, and survive and thrive in the mobile revolution.

I enjoyed the data-driven approach and wealth of case studies. Actually, one of the main ideas I got from the book was an internal search engine used in a company that is able to access all the various information systems used at the company: finding data from an increasing number of information systems is a pain I am quite familiar with. This was just mentioned in passing in a case study, and that is the strength of case studies: readers may walk away with pieces of information that are very useful to them even though they may not have received much attention.

The discussions on the roles of HEROes, management, and IT are interesting, and many IT personnel would benefit from reading at least a couple of chapters. The role of IT may be changing fundamentally towards consultation and guidance instead of placing limits.

While the book advocates empowering your HEROes both for internal and customer-oriented issues, the focus is definitely on the customers. I would have enjoyed more ideas on internal functions as well.

From my point of view, working a lot on factory automation, information technology is coming to shop floor as well, and ways to empower those shop floor workers were not really discussed. Many of these people cannot be HEROes by the book's definition, because they do not have access to information technology at work yet. However, HEROes could well arise from the shop floor as information technology penetrates that area, or they could be the HEROes who introduce it there. Perhaps the definition is too focused on technology here.

There was also a fair bit of discussion on mobile technologies, and here technology has moved surprisingly fast: the book is all about iPhone and other smartphones, but after its release the tablet market has been born, and it has a lot to offer for companies: tools that are faster and easier to use than laptops and still have way more screen space than smartphones. Even some of the case studies in the book might work better with an iPad than an iPhone.
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on December 4, 2011
I work in a large IT team and recently got involved in IT product management and internal communities of practice. I found a lot content in this book to be very useful, especially when it comes to thinking about how to best serve our internal customers. The case studies in this book are relevant; the IDEA and POST methods are practical; and I like the simple Value-Effort guide in sizing up not just HERO projects but any project, in general.
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VINE VOICEon December 21, 2010
There's an interesting cross-current between social media and the new connectivity and networks social media create, and innovation. It's fairly obvious when you stop to think about it - good ideas spring from the interaction of different perspectives or point of view, and the more interconnected we become via social media, the more opportunities exist for innovation.

It was with this frame of reference that I agreed to review Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. Bernoff, as you may recall, was co-author of Groundswell, which was really a seminal book about the different kinds and uses of social media. Groundswell helped define what social media is, and demonstrated the value of social media tools at a time when many businesses were questioning whether or not those tools had value. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and so forth. The questions about whether or not the tools have value have, to a great extent, been proven out. Now the real question becomes, who uses those tools and how does that change the way the organization works?

In Empowered, Bernoff and Schadler turn their attention to exactly this question - what does it mean to have powerful social media tools that enable increased communication and idea exchange? What could that mean for your business, and how will it impact your business? The authors posit that a HERO will arise from these attributes - Highly Empowered Resourceful Operative. In some ways these HEROS arise in response to the fact that customers make demands on the organization - Twittering about bad service or blogging about a faulty product. This seems to suggest that the HEROs arise in reaction to the difficulty of responding to customers. I suspect, quite to the contrary, that these HEROs have always existed, but now have the tools to reach the customers and other like-minded fellow employees. In other words, social media came along and created communities, but also provided the tools necessary to help engaged, empowered employees to solve problems and create new relationships with customers that simply wasn't available previously.

If you haven't read Groundswell, I'd recommend reading it before Empowered, simply to ensure you have the foundation for understanding the different social media tools and their uses. The book is packed with a range of ideas and suggestions and sometimes seems to create a new acronym per chapter. Beyond HERO we get IDEA, the methodology that HEROs should use to interact with engaged customers:

* Identify
* Deliver
* Empower
* Amplify

This methodology defines how HEROs can recruit, develop and use customer activists to further powerful, positive messages about the company through social media. The authors also borrow from Gladwell, leveraging the concept of Mavens and Connectors to further this thinking. Much of the early part of the book does a great job identifying what the HEROs can do to interact with other HEROs internally or with engaged customers externally.

I felt the book got a bit preachy and cheesy in the middle, when it spent time on a HERO compact, basically an agreement between HEROs, Information Technology and Management. Each leg of this three legged stool ends up with a stated compact and set of agreements they must live up to. Yes, IT does often get in the way of the use of externally oriented social media tools, but they have their reasons. And yes, Twelpforce at Best Buy is proof that engaged employees can provide support to consumers, but one example does not demonstrate that every firm will be successful using this approach, and the HERO oath applied on pages 116 and 123 feels forced.

The book turns its focus to helping HEROs achieve great outcomes in the last third, with a focus on helping HEROs innovate and helping HEROs collaborate. These chapters, while short, reinforce cultural changes that must occur to support the rise of hyper-connected employees and the shifts in the work they do and the value they deliver.

For the most part, this book is really less about innovation, or empowerment or social media, and more about the possibilities that exist in a well-educated, engaged and connected workforce. The real barriers to HEROs, beyond the IT bug-a-boo, are hierarchy, culture and risk. The silos that exist in many firms keep the best people from interacting with customers and helping customers achieve their goals. Prevailing cultural attitudes about what to say, and whom to say it to, and who in the organization should say it, will restrict a significant amount of the work the authors are trying to promote. Most organizations live in mortal fear of allowing anyone to say anything in any channel that hasn't been vetted six times. That fact alone will constrain HEROs and social media interaction.

Empowered is a good book that helps describe the shift that will happen in organizations as top-down hierarchical firms begin to shift to flatter, more nimble and more engaged organizations relying on social media tools and the interactions they create between the company and its customers and partners, and internal silos as well. While I think the authors intended this book to act as a guidebook for implementing social media and empowering corporate teams, I suspect it will probably be a longer term change, but completely on target with their ideas.

This review is cross-posted on my blog: [...]
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