It’s been quite a spring. With major brands in the news for missteps ranging from the failed Pepsi commercial to United Airlines’ woes, there’s been no shortage of controversies to make organizations reflect on how to avoid these types of fails.

In fact, that’s what some of these situations have done. They’ve caused people to ask the question, how did this happen? And how can we avoid the same mistakes?

An online community can help. How?

A community is filled with members loyal to your brand. If they weren’t loyal, they wouldn’t be in the community in the first place. Loyalty by definition means:

“The quality of being loyal to someone or something. A strong feeling of support or allegiance.”

So, if these members want the best for your brand, it makes them an ideal sounding board for all types of concepts. It’s a “safe” place for you to test your ideas. If you’re off base, your community will let you know. And, it’s much better to have the feedback come from those who know you—and whom you trust—then taking a chance by putting it out there for the general public, who are more than ready and willing to criticize a brand—and will do it swiftly. And virally.

Let’s look at a few examples of situations in which a community might’ve helped brands avoid major missteps:

  • In the case of the Pepsi ad, if Pepsi had had a community to test the concept with—or to review the final product—it might’ve saved them the embarrassment and backlash they suffered when the ad aired. If they’d involved their customers in every step of the process, they could have avoided the misstep altogether.
  • How about Adidas? The brand made the mistake of sending a controversial email during the Boston marathon. Testing the concept in the community might’ve garnered some feedback to let them know they were going in the wrong direction—before they emailed thousands of recipients, who quickly put the word out about their misstep.
  • Then there’s the subscription-based service Birchbox[i], who decided to scale back on the number of points and discounts its customers could collect. When the change was announced—without warning—the brand’s loyalists took to social media to complain. Had they floated the idea to their community first, they might’ve learned it wouldn’t be popular—and been able to make adjustments before launching it widely.
  • Something else communities can help with: product testing. If you have a new product to roll out, test it with your community before the launch. Take for example watermelon Oreos[ii]. While just about any Oreo is delicious, the watermelon variety was a flop. Conducting a test with community members might’ve helped save Oreo the trouble (not to mention the expense) of bringing this version to market.

Having a community benefits your brand by providing a valuable sounding board for your ideas. And remember: Your community is there not only to steer you away from ideas that may be misguided, but they’re also there to defend you, should you make a misstep—as long as you’ve factored them in along the way. They have your back.