Today I had a nice conversation with a former colleague, catching up on our careers, families, plans and so on. The time between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year (for those living in the United States) seems to bring these type of “how have you been?” type of conversations. My colleague has been thinking of different business ventures and possibilities (also common in the current economy) and wanted to bounce these ideas off of me. In the course of the conversation I was struck by the similarities of what we both are seeking even though we are in different points of our lives. Basic stuff like providing for our families and health care to being able to add value in an organization to enjoying the fruits of our labor and life.
Then I began to reflect on the underlying changes within the social web. With all of the buzz on the latest platform and whose is best equipped to help companies converse with their customers, could it be that most people are overlooking a most basic premise, which is to satisfy human needs? Why should an organization expect to have a mass of followers on their Facebook Page if the organization is not meeting or satisfying the needs of the constituents? By the same token, what would possess someone to join and contribute to an online community or associate themselves to a brand in the first place?
Some context or a framework would help answer some of these questions. Fortunately, Abraham Maslow developed a theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. There are five levels of needs ranging from the most basic (food, water, sex) all the way to self-actualization. The theory posits that humans will focus on meeting the most basic needs and once met will move up to the next level on the pyramid. The focus shifts on achieving the needs of the new level with the needs of the previous level requiring less attention.
As you can see in the pyramid image, the top three levels are driving the explosion of the social web in those countries and societies that met the bottom two levels. Human’s want to belong to communities, to share the highs and lows, to be respected by their peers and to feel that life has meaning. It use to be that people would join a local social and religious organizations to have their needs met. Today we have social networks, mobile devices and so on that increases the connections and reduces the friction in meeting our needs.
A key point to remember as we dive into all of these cool online networks is that the quality of the relationship is more important than the quantity of friends or contacts. We trust the people who help us move up the pyramid more than a casual acquaintance twice removed. Thus the challenge of thinking that social media will solve decreasing sales or replace a costly marketing program. A Facebook Page or a Twitter account is not going to cause people to trust you or your organization. The quality of the day to day interactions on an individual level focusing on meeting basic human needs will cause a vibrant community to form. Of course the challenge here is one of scale. Possible solutions will have to wait for another post.
For now, the takeaway is that your remarkable product and service must meet a human need. Examine your motivations and the motivations of your customers. Success is achieved when you are doing something that helps others meets their needs at the same time your needs are being met. Pretty obvious but often overlooked.