Charlene Li

Forrester Research

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CHARLENE LI
VP-PRINCIPAL ANALYST, FORRESTER RESEARCH
When Facebook rolled out its much-criticized Beacon ad program, Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li captured the sentiment of many unhappy consumers. Responding to the annoyance she felt when an item about a coffee table she'd purchased online showed up in her newsfeed, the 42-year-old Ms. Li was fast to criticize Facebook for a lack of respect for its users' privacy. Later she appeared on "60 Minutes" and helped Lesley Stahl understand the issue.

The Beacon episode was just one way Ms. Li solidified her position as the go-to thinker on how platforms such as social networks and microblogs are changing the game for media companies and marketers. Her blog has become a must-read, and her book, "Groundswell," co-authored with Forrester colleague Josh Bernoff, has quickly become a primer for those who want to understand the fast-changing world of Twitter and MySpace.

"Charlene is a pivotal force in helping marketers navigate tectonic disruptions heralded in by social media," says Max Kalehoff, VP-marketing at Clickable. "She has an uncanny ability to instill calm and real understanding of the threats and opportunities inherent in a world composed of savvy, connected consumers."

Asked to grade how marketers are facing up to those changes, Ms. Li gives them a C. "They're treating it more like a marketing channel than a relationship-building opportunity," she says, adding that a big roadblock is corporate cultures that aren't built to handle the lack of control over brand or message or even product development in a consumer-controlled environment.

"Marketers are horrible at getting close to customers," she says. "They say they want it, but they don't."

There are exceptions. Ms. Li likes efforts such as Levi's Project 501 Design Challenge, which allowed an online community to judge product ideas submitted by fans. The winner's design was made and sold on the website.

Despite her new-media cred, Ms. Li, a Harvard M.B.A., came to Forrester after a career in newspaper publishing that included a stint in product development at the San Jose Mercury News and as publisher of interactive media for a newspaper group in Massachusetts.

Ms. Li, a mother of two, is a fan of and participant in mommy blogs, those online hangouts where mothers bond and trade tips -- and deal with more and more marketing communications. In those blogs, she sees part of the future of marketing: big corporations reaching out to small media operations because they hold influence over desirable target audiences.
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