Social networking – it really is no surprise that the interconnectivity of the web has brought upon this virtual social phenomenon. What is a surprise is how we (individuals, groups, businesses & brands) are quick to betray the simplicity of the idea and wonder why we get burned as a result.

In all their simplicity these networks work best when they reflect the way in which we have always built our own personal communities which are made up of
People (who I am)…
…with Friends (who I know)
…engaged in Activities (what i am doing)
…that are always Growing (in a state of persistence)

Not a new idea, but an extension of our societies, utilizing technology which empowers us in new ways. The technology helps us organize our own social structure and space while expanding our ‘circle’ toward the potential of a worldwide network. This is evolution in the purest sense of the word…and the technology is just in its infancy. Today, in order for the network to work for us, we need to first work for (it). But this will change as technology improves and AI (artificial intelligence) develops, at which point (it) will start to work for us.

Enough philosophy for now, but my point is simple – veer from the rules above, and you break the model.

Facebook learned the hard way this week with its abuse of Beacon. The good news is that it learned quickly and retreated from its initial plans for a “Beacon” marketing model that would track and published users’ off-site buying habits. The lessons for other publishers may be obvious, but lets spell them out.

First off, Brands are remiss if they think that their users are such fans that the very nature of the Brand itself will drive us consumers to join or visit their enclosed social experience. Brands need to forget about ‘Brand’ and tap into the unique consumer insights that link their consumers. If these insights unveil tangible and unique values that would inspire like minded individuals to congregate you may have something. If not, don’t bother.

It’s about creating something around a conversations that already exists, it’s not about starting a new, soulless conversation…get it?

If you are lucky enough to be the owner of a brand that does inspire these values, don’t make the mistake of abusing it. Tell users of major policy changes before you make them, and give them the opportunity to opt-out should you make major membership changes. Even if you don’t think users care about privacy online, you should act as if they do. Just because word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing it does not mean that the consumer wants to be a brand evangelist.

“They love our Brands, they identify with our Brands, they can’t wait to tell other people about our Brands, they will swap Branded widgets, they will write about us in their blogs….” We fantasize that consumers love our Brands so much that they will do our marketing for us. Beacon failed because there was no real benefit in if for the consumer and the consumer saw right through it.

We value real connections and this is why I believe that MySpace, unless it changes its ways, will ultimately lose against Facebook.

If you want your Brand to evolve and become part of the conversation, go deep, develop value and experiment with software that connects us in ways that contribute to our evolutionary cycle as social beings.

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