Brands, if you want a healthy community first take its temperature

Image Credit: wererabbit/Flickr

As social media seemingly becomes the norm and communities become more sophisticated, it’s easy to think that users are just as excited about the future as brands. Yet human nature still requires a period of integration to accept and adopt new social tools. Ignore this fact and a brand’s best ideas and well-intended efforts can fall flat or be aggressively rejected.

Take Facebook, for instance. We have seen a series of push backs from its users – often involving hundreds of thousands of people – for changes in design, interface or privacy settings. For Facebook, this was both the opportunity and burden of being a market leader. Yet each time they wisely let the push back play out and made sure the community was heard before making a final decision.

The same approach was taken with their advertising. Stowe Boyd wrote an interesting piece about this asking why Facebook hasn’t been more aggressive in leveraging users profiles to push targeted advertising. Yet I think that Facebook has rightly decided that its users are not ready – personally or collectively – to accept such overt marketing, especially since their community is built on relationships between friends rather than strangers.

Google was not so lucky when it launched Buzz. Despite the hype, its launch was underwhelming and has faltered ever since partly because it presumed that early adopters wanted to include everyone in his or her Gmail directory. This mistake showed insensitivity towards the right of the individual to control his or her own privacy.

Despite the exponential growth and diversification of social media, these are very early days. Brands would be wise to move slowly before upgrading what they expect from their community. In the frenzy to monetize these tools it’s easy to get myopic and presumptuous. But if a brand stays mindful that the data in front of them is actually living, breathing and feeling beings, and that human nature hasn’t changed, they can extend a hand to their community and move forward together with confidence.