Back in school, us kids talked behind the teachers’ backs… unless we were caught, in which case we had to speak in front of everyone.
“Johnny, what were you saying to Eddie? “
“I want you to repeat it loud so the whole class can hear you!”
…this was the type of social experience that we sought to avoid.
Not all teachers were the same. Some teachers really didn’t seem to care about our interactions. And the most clueless ones didn’t flinch when we told jokes about them and laughed about them in plain sight.
The cool ones laughed with us, wisely, and we loved them.
Kind of like some brands are today, in the online social web. Some plug in, some are clueless.
Obvious comparisons to the childhood example – the teacher is an authority figure by position, but still has to earn the respect with every interaction with the students. Yet she runs a risk every time she tries to mingle with the students on their turf. A risk worth taking, and learning from.
And, the teacher writes on the blackboard (“the wall”) and everyone can read it, re-write it, or start writing other ideas on other parts of the room.
These instructors are (usually) paid to be there, and the students know they get to move on to other teachers… that the relationship is only temporary. Unless their teacher is so influential to their lives that they keep the relationship going for a long time.
And in another parallel with online brands, teachers can only effectively connect with students up to a certain class size. After that, they need helpers… teacher’s aides.
But in the modern world, will brands dilute the impact of their social media interactions as they run up against a corporate version of Dunbar’s Number (the theoretical limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships)? For individuals, the number is claimed to be 150 inter-personal relationships.
Yet some people “maintain” thousands of relationships online. They swim (as Robert Scoble said to me) since it’s not possible to interact with every bit of social media as your network grows gigantic. But swim-strokes are okay if at the heart of it you’re a real person.
Brands have it both easier and harder… like a teacher, they have implied authority and a mutually-respected “I’m not really your friend” attitude in their core, yet they also have to reach people on a personal level. Odds are, like teachers and their pupils, some brands will get it wrong, and some will work with each day to find something to evolve the relationship to have rewards for both sides.