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

Simon Mainwaring / Advertising / 9 years ago

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.


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  1. This is a good post – a reality check for brands so enamoured with social media that they forget the point: connecting with people.

    I agree with your point about Facebook and targeted advertising. Advertising on search engines is effective because it's a stop along the way to a destination. You visit Google because you are searching for something – be it information, a product or a service. There's no intrusion if a relevant ad catches your eye.

    What I think some people forget – including the brains behind Facebook at times – is that Facebook isn't a stop along the way to somewhere else. It's a destination in its own right. You log in to see what your friends are up to and update them on what you're doing. For that reason alone, I'd expect the community to push back in the face of excessive targeted marketing.

    As you so rightly suggest, being mindful of how people are using the tools is the key to success.

  2. Thanks, Matt. I'm as guilty as anyone of being enamored with social media and its easy to become a data junkie. Hopefully the best brands will let customer feedback drive their changes so they can move forward with their community. Thanks for the great feedback, Simon

  3. Avatar jeffthesensei says:

    Good post.

    I work primarily in the large enterprise B2B space and don't want my clients in public SoMe until they have acknowledged the fact that this is about human relationships, not numbers, targets, industry verticals or any other metric they use to quantify the people they do business with.

    The next step and one I am working on with them is to design a social experience that is based on the needs of their customers – to become customer advocates. This is based on constantly gauging need and making numerous, small adjustments to the social experience.

    Have you seen more big brands doing this?

    Great post again and thanks.

    Jeff – Sensei

  4. Thanks, Jeff. That's spot on. Make them recognize their business is built on people and then focus on service. The best case study for extraordinary success around this approach is Zappos in the U.S.. They drove their brand to huge success on the basis of this sort of service approach. It's really smart. Thanks, Jeff. Simon

  5. Avatar Jodi Henderson says:

    “Yet human nature still requires a period of integration to accept and adopt new social tools.” I totally agree! This statement is actually the idea that gives me pause when we talk about social media tools being game changers. (I know they are, but the rate of adoption for the right purpose is something I have yet to really observe.)

    I've heard anecdotes about how this company or that company is a great example of how to do social media and how consumers have so much power, but I am not fully convinced that consumers in general are close to completing the period of integration you describe. For example, in my circle of, say, 50 friends and relatives, I know 1 or 2 people who use Twitter (and even then, their activity level is veeeerrry low). Most of the rest of the circle uses Facebook fairly actively but only to share status updates and pictures. Their lack of awareness combined with their busy schedules means, to me, they aren't even considering other uses for these tools. Additionally, beyond Facebook and Twitter, I'm not sure anyone in my circle even knows about anything else. I am left wondering if there is anything that will trigger a more robust, involved use of these wonderful tools or even compel an interest in learning more about the the new media world. After all, without a change in behavior (adoption and integration), how can brands possibly maximize use of these channels?

    Thanks for another great post!

  6. Hi Jodi. I agree. There is a threshold to how much people can absorb into their lives especially when these tools make their lives busier. I suspect we'll then see growth as social media wraps around the rest of the world. I imagine we'll then see a third period of discovery as we start to leverage the truly global phase of social media connectivity. Who adopts what and for how long is so case specific. But I do believe that as adoption expands, so will brand usage of these tools. thanks for the great feedback. simon