Social networking sites: you don’t own the community

Social media is huge. Community-building is in. And web 2.0 is the chariot of fire that’s going to take us all to web/business/marketing nirvana.

Rigghhht …

A couple of years ago my company introduced a quasi-Mahon methodology for our sales force. It’s a way of finding out what the client wants, and then presenting an exact solution that meets his or her needs. One of the things I remember from the training they gave the marketing and leadership groups before implementing the program was this:

“Intent counts more than technique.”

In other words, you can mess up on the technique a little if your heart’s in the right place. You can miss a word now and then as long as you’re really, truly, trying to meet your clients’ needs.

But it doesn’t go the other way.

You can’t screw up the intent but have great technique, and hope that everything will be fine. Because people will find you out. If you’re just a money-hungry commission-seeking sales machine, sooner or later it will catch up with you. Sooner or later your clients will be ticked off that you sold them product they don’t need, that you played footsies with the truth, that you don’t really care about their needs and goals.

This is true in the web 2.0 social networking world too.

That came to mind when I read The Facebook Lesson. The Facebook lesson is that the owners aren’t the owners … they’re the sponsors. They pay the bills, and they reap the lion’s share of the profits. But they don’t own the community. And if they ever start feeling like they do … there won’t be a community for long.

As we were settling in for a chat earlier this year with Threadless co-founder Jake Nickell so we could profile his company for Citizen Marketers, Jake said something that stopped us cold: “Our community could destroy us if they wanted to.”

. . .

During our chat, Jake was still a bit shaken from what had happened several days earlier. While redesigning the site, he accidentally deleted a good part of the content created by the community. Poof, it was gone and unrecoverable. Jake feared the worst: a community so angry that it would harm the company.

The Threadless community did NOT destroy the company … Nickell had the right intent. His technique – at least in this one case – sucked. Hard. But his heart was in the right place. And so the community accepted the error – and even helped them recover from it.

Threadless knew their “business” was all about the people who participated.

Contrst that with Facebook’s recent privacy gaffe. It doesn’t help Facebook when the inevitable mea culpa comes with a paternalistic “calm down.”

The point: the community is in charge. If you don’t like that, don’t start a social networking site. Don’t try to build a community in your own image.

Go sell tires instead.

[tags] social, media, social networking, web 2.0, myspace, facebook, threadless, community, participation, john koetsier [/tags]