Liam Anderson just Tweeted a link to a TED talk on social networking by a very smart guy called Nicholas Christakis. You should take a look. His bottom line seems to be that, primally speaking, social networking drives the good in society.
This is a subject that I have pondered many times. As you will probably know, I see brands as communities and this perspective drives all that I do as a marketer. In the talks I deliver I often highlight the parallels between housing communities and brand communities. You move into an area because you feel it reflects your standards and values, you aspire to fit in, or it is comfortable, which, by definition means that you have something in common with everyone else who lives there – even if that’s just that the place feels right. However, every facet of your life is not replicated in every other local resident. You have hobbies and interests, values and habits that are unique to you in that community and so in joining it you are also enriching it.
Take my son as an example. He has an amazing network of friends. Its a very close network of guys and their girlfriends who he has encountered at various points in his life in many different places. Nicholas suggested in his talk that there are two distinct types of networks those where the “friends” are independent of each other and don’t know each other, their relationship being confined to the “host” and there are others where the friends are inter-connected, they know each other through the network. The catalyst in both cases is the host who is either gregarious and introduces his friends to each other or is insular and protective of his relationships and keeps them separate. Each type of network has its plusses and minuses as Nicholas points out and who is to say which, if either is right or wrong. The important thing is that we recognise the difference.
It’s fair to say that my son’s friends’ lives have all been enriched by the network. Each has shared their individual interests with the others and as a result there are sub-groups that go rock-walling, others play squash, a big group hangs out in one guy’s big garden all summer grilling, drinking and playing volleyball. The more they do together the stronger the community becomes and the broader its interests and the interests of the individuals. From time to time members of the community have had a tough time and I’ve been amazed at the way the others, even the fringe members, have gathered around to offer support and practical help. As Nicholas says, a force for good.
Because I see brand communities in the same way, its important to me that my clients provide opportunities for their community members to interact with each other and not just the host (my clients), but while most organisations these days do the social networking “talk”, very few indeed get around to the “walk”. Brands have to be gregarious to be successful, they have to stand out, be communicative and above all confident enough to introduce their community members to each other. Organise events like Saturn the US car-maker who each year take their customers on a tour of the factory, Harley Davidson, or the cycle manufacturer Yeti (my favourite bikes in the world) who organise events around the world for their owners to come together race, chat and party. I blogged last week about Apple’s new dating site, which is another example.
Brand guardians should always remember that their community members will also be members of other communities (buy other brands) where their other interests and values are better represented, but the the successful brands are those that are central to their members lives and achieve the balance between keeping themselves and their products front-and-centre while maintaining a broad church. What are you doing to build Brandships in your brand community?