Tolerance may be one of the most misunderstood words in the English language. There are many using this term who simply manipulate it to fit their own purposes. True tolerance is something quite different than what is portrayed in the mainstream media. While this may have implications far beyond the social web, I wanted to discuss the importance of tolerance in building a brand online that is worth talking about.
Let’s start with the definition of tolerance. According to Dictionary.com, tolerance is, “interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own.” This means not only being open to opposing points of view, but actively seeking them out and showing interest for opinions that are different from our own. This is where it starts to come off the track. There are many, especially those with extreme points of view on either side, who believe that others should be tolerant of their viewpoint, but they are not will to listen to the other side. Tolerance is a two way street and it involves empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is your willingness to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – to see it from their point of view. Sympathy means that you share their same views.
What does this have to do with building an online brand? Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how the web has become a collection of coffee shops where groups of people sit around chatting about anything and everything. However, while what happens in the coffee shop typically stays in the coffee shop (except for the gossipers in the group), what happens online is out there for everyone to see. Your political views, your religious practices, and even your favorite sports team can all be sticking points for a potential brand ambassador. While it would be wonderful if everyone were tolerant, this is simply not the case. Therefore, you have to be proactive about seeking out opposing views and being open to the discussion. a) You might learn something and b) You meet some very interesting people that way. If there is a topic you feel particularly strong about, maybe avoiding the topic is the best way to build relationships.
Social media has brought the world together more than any other technology to date. However, just because you hand someone a microphone does not mean they have something worthwhile to say. One of my favorite quotes is from Uncle Ben on Spiderman who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” How do we make the most of our new found amplification of our freedom of speech? Seek out new opinions. Engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue online. Build on common ground. While it is our views and beliefs that make us who we are, it our tolerance that binds us together. There is enough of ignorance and hate in the social web. Whether you are building a corporate or personal brand online, engage everyone. If used correctly, not only will social media help you build a brand like never before, but it can become the greatest source for good in human history.