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I don't like your companyWe are experiencing a fundamental shift in how we communicate individually, collectively and collaboratively. As an obvious example it is practically impossible to sit within a group of people, no matter where that group is, be it on the tube, sitting in a university lecture theatre or slacking-off in the office work space, where a considerable number of the group are not tied to their mobile phones, checking in on their social groups, their networks, their communities.

Humans have always been collaborative, we are social beings, our success has depended upon being collaborative, sharing resources, helping each other. What has changed is that we no longer only form social groups and communities that are tied to specific geographical locations, such as church choirs or football stands but rather seek out and expand, grow, cultivate our community in virtual spaces where physical boundaries prevent no limits to engagement or indeed size of participants, nor time of engagement, a-synchronous communication is very much “normal”.

The fact of the matter is that it has never been easier to find like-minded people who share our mutual, goals, ambitions, interests , passions and ideologies than ever before. The fact that we can form groups and communities on-line, and rapidly, means that the ideology of these groups can be amplified at astonishing rates (both negatively and positively).

Looking at it positively we can see it creates enormous potential for brands to exploit, or rather embrace, harness utilise or leverage for PR activities. Essentially we mobilise the community to positively amplify the ideology of the group, perhaps you could think of Steve Jobs and the iPhone.

Done well a brand with a mobilised community can reap amazing rewards, loyal customers and brand advocates will sing the praises and defend the brand with incredible passion. This credibility, this trust has to be “EARNED”, there is no shortcut.

Looking at it negatively we can see incredible risk where the ideology of the group becomes incredibly damaging for the brand. So here we see the need for highly responsive crisis management within these communities and reputation management, or search engine manipulation tactics as this “noise” cascades into archives and is permanently etched into the front page of Google.

So what’s at the core of this? What’s the glue? Is it community management? It is the creative idea, the trigger? Whatever the firing gun is I think that one of the key ingredients of any social media campaign, strategy or policy is community management. I think it is absolutely essential. It is one of the core skills that is required in managing a brand on-line. In actual fact, off-line too.

Social media can be compared to “being social” down the pub. If this is true, and I believe it is, you only have to think about the way we as humans manage our face-to-face relationships. Generally we are “nice”, we do not pick fights and we tend to be courteous and responsive to others’ needs (I say generally), we say sorry, we bow down graceful and we also encourage and praise.

Therefore for your brand to succeed in the social space, it is imperative you apply all of the good traits of human behaviour in your on-line communications, never tweet when drunk, and never raise to the hecklers. The golden rule is to extinguish a fire before it burns, if at all possible correct factual errors and then take the conversation offline immediately.