Sharkey’s Machine

Feel the Vibrations: A Groundswell on The North Face.

Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li set out an explicit framework how to develop a social media platform in Groundswell. They outline the POST method as an effective process to maximize the utility to gain the greatest advantages from social media. I will use the POST method as a “rubric of effectiveness “to analyze The North Face’s social media strategy.


The common phase from Groundswell that can capsulate the People tenant of the POST method is: “What are customers ready for?”  This is the most important aspect of developing an effective groundswell. If you don’t know what you customers want, need, or will accept from a media standpoint; how can you be sure you are producing a message through a relevant medium? The North Face products line is no doubt geared to young and/or active people. It is often the stereotype that social media is only relevant to this population, and while that might not entirely true; it definitely can be asserted that a youth oriented product line can benefit from a stereotypical youth driven communication medium. I think it is safe to say that The North Face customer base is open to various forms of social media weather that is Facebook, Twitter, You Tube videos, blogs, or podcast.


Objectives in Groundswell are just what they are anywhere else in life, they are goals. What do you want to accomplish? The explicit objectives of The North Face communication strategy is obviously only outlined with the organization; but some basic assumptions can be made. The North Face is a merchant foremost; it wants to sell the most it can at the highest possible margin. So it can safely be presumed that from a communication standpoint it wants to energize its customer base to increase excitement and loyalty to its products. It is reasonable to assume that outdoor enthusiasts that purchase The North Face products are more susceptible to forms of community. By the nature of the hobbies, people who are highly active outdoors are more willing to find likeminded people to share tips, stories, and adventures with.  The predisposition to being open to communal environments should be great for The North Face, that is what social media is all about.  With social media not only can outdoor people share around a campfire; they can continue that experience around a blog, or a networking site when they are not on the trail.


This is the overarching “how” to the objectives “what.”How do you want to go about achieving your overall objectives. How much two-way communication do you want back from customers? How do want the conversation driven, from the PR department, from the customers, from the hands on members in the organization like R&D? I think when taking a Groundswell approach to social media it is important to remember that the strategy must be dynamic. The groundswell conversation will constantly be moving and changing hands between customers, critics, and corporate; that is the nature of the best. It is important to use volatile fluidity change in communication authority to your advantage. I think of controlling social media like playing pin ball. You can’t force the ball or the conversation to go in an explicit direction, but you can give it a nudge to affect its general area or to expel it from an undesired direction, which is just as good as absolute control many times.


I describe technology in communications as: the mediums to which an agenda is carried out; no matter how archaic or innovative.  In Groundswell Bernoff and Li warn how picking inappropriate technologies can be detrimental to your overall communication strategy. The technologies have to be dependent upon the first 3 tenants of the POST method. You have to pick a technology that your people are open to, that can help achieve your goals, and that can be incorporated into your overall communication approach. Many times companies focus too much on the technology aspect of their social communication program without having a solid justifiable foundation for their decisions.

The North Face may be guilty of focusing too much on technology. They have all basics covered, they have a blog, podcast, viral video, widgits, and a page on Facebook; but how effective is all this? For me, not much.  As I laid out in my last post Blogging for Big Business, The North Face does a poor job in making its web-based PR functions accessible through its retail website.  On its Facebook fan page The North Face does a better job outlining blogs, allowing members to upload comments and video. When I looked at The North Face Facebook (I love alliteration) page, I wondered why don’t they incorporate this functionality into their corporate website with a community page?

Well they have, they have just done a poor job of marketing it. Over the past few months during my analysis of The North Face social media strategy I have been disappointed that they didn’t have a corporate community webpage; and until now I hadn’t found one. When I clicked on a blog post from the Facebook page it took me to a corporate community page, UREAKA! Finally what I had been expecting. However, I am still disappointed that it took me so long. From what I can tell this site is not linked from the corporate site and I could not find it during any of my Google searches. In fact, even on the Facebook page there is no explicit link to The North Face community page, you just have to click on a blog post to go there.  

For me finding the community webpage after so long is better sweet. It is everything I wanted to find, but it is proof that The North Face should reanalyze its media strategy priorities. The people are there, the goals are clear, but the technology and strategy don’t seem be cohesive.  Until next time, keep the sun upon your face and the wind at your back.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Wow! Excellent analysis on how The North Face is using the grondswell.

Comment by Barbara Nixon

You’re asking the right questions. One thing I look at is: how many people are interacting with these tools? And what are they saying? It’s not always simple to figure out which social media applications are working, but you can make a start this way.

Comment by Josh Bernoff

Oh, and tell Barbara there’s no such thing as a “grondswell” 😉

Comment by Josh Bernoff

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