The concept of a brand as a veneer is dead but are we expecting too much of brands, as they explore social media, to allow them to fail?

At Likeminds I asked the second session panel whether we are expecting too much of brands using social media to allow them to fail? My premise is this:  we descry a brand when it doesn’t engage in the social space, but shoot them down when they try to engage too fast and fail.
 
Just think about how quick we were to titter at Habitat, but in reality we've learnt from it. These mistakes teach us about what is right in this world of invisible boundaries and often the remedial efforts have better shaped the medium.
 
Is it not our own standards we need to consider?
 
In the past we were dupable, pure and simple. We took in the message and we bought the product. As consumers we did not consider whether every part of the business behind the brand was in alignment, whether their campaigns team were synced with customer services – we didn’t because we did not feel engaged, we were at the end of the chain. We saw the carefully crafted advertising and this is what shaped our expectations.
 
The internet went some way to challenge this. We were able to share information fast and to create communities but still these communities were fragmented and often focussed on the issue not the individual, so the influence of the individual was weak beyond that closed circle.  Advertising adapted and, albeit after a dismissive start, brands presented a retargeted vision of themselves.   
 
Now with social media and especially Twitter we have an open circle – where reach is almost endless and individual influence is possible and effective. A space brands know they need to ‘be in’ and are rushing head over heels to engage with us because we are no longer the last link in the chain, we are often the first. Brands are working out just what on earth engagement ‘looks like’ in real time.

The concept of a brand as a veneer is dead. The mechanics of the companies behind the brand are relevant to me as a consumer now because although I still don’t want to care about whether the marketing campaigns team is synced with customer services: I need to know I can do something about it.
 
So we are in a new place and in this land grab are glorious failures not inevitable? Are we still so suckered into the old image of a brand as infallible deity that we actually believe they are all universally ready for social engagement? What happened to standing on the shoulders of giants as an acceptable form of evolution? We celebrate social media’s lack of norms but we quickly define them retrospectively. And are often too quick to reprimand.
 
I say celebrate the brands that broke the door in and remember that Dell did not become the social media darling because it was excellent at engaging, it did so because it was not engaging and consumers went through the back channel. Now it is the case study of choice.

There is one other reason brands who try and fail and try again should be praised – it kills the gimmick of the shyster social media gurus. Those who start a sales pitch with negative headline after headline of brands who “screwed up” which is both a narrow view and an insult to the people who tried. If companies and their brands are now more scared to engage for fear of being the next bad-posted child then they have failed to challenge the status quo.
 
Thanks to @darenbbc who at Media140 reminded us all that the “Habitat disaster” was the mistake of an eager intern, nothing else. Also to @gemmawent and @chrish10 for proofreading and comments.