Don't Let Your Brand Be Creepy

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It’s important to remember that being transparent is not the same as divulging personal information.

We have never seen a moment like this on our history. Look at the combined audience of platforms like Blogging, Podcasting, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and more. What you are confronted with is a very interesting journal of how we – as a culture – are. There are both personal and professional components to it. Many people think that we are over-sharing, while others think that we’re divulging way too much personal information. If you’re looking to better understand what all of this publicness means, I can highly recommend Jeff Jarvis‘ latest business book, Public Parts.

The brand struggle.

As brands attempt to connect in a more real and human way with their consumers, they’re also struggling and straddling the line of what would be considered a best practice (transparency) while fumbling into a world of asking for too much (or getting too personal). Recently, I came across a major consumer electronics manufacturer’s Facebook Page and was shaking my head in disbelief at the content. Whoever was managing the community was clearly inexperienced. Going back in their timeline, the content was strong and transparent. They were dealing customer service issues, encouraging people to check out new items, asking their opinions on the industry that the brand serves and also provided interesting insights that were not just self-serving marketing blather. From what I can tell, interest in the Facebook Page from the general public seemed to dissipate over the past month, and suddenly the postings were these strange, personal requests. Things like, "so where are the parties at this weekend?" or asking people more personal questions that have no relation to the brand or their product development. You can see by the lack of response that a line had been crossed.

Brands are not people. People are not brands. 

If a friend on Facebook asks, "so, what are you plans this weekend?" it makes sense. It doesn’t when a brand does this (unless that brand is in the hospitality industry and trying to get you to come and spend your weekend with them). This is the immaturity of brands as they enter the more social fray. They try to get too personal and instead of it coming off as sincere, it comes off as creepy and pushes people away.

Transparency leads to personal.

If the people who operate on behalf of the brand are transparent in their interactions, then slowly – over time – these people will develop more personal relationships with those who are interacting with them. I think people like Richard Binhammer over at Dell exemplify this. When Dell first became active in Social Media (and they were on there very early on), Binhammer became a lighthouse and because he was truly doing his best to get results and be transparent, people began interacting with him (and many others) that much more. He was being transparent, but it wasn’t overly personal and it (obviously) never crossed the line of divulging information about the company that was not relevant to the interaction. It was also done in a way where Binhammer was transparent but not overly personal about his own, personal, life. It struck the right balance.


We have to be able to take a step back and remember that a lot of these interactions are not only new(ish) for a brand, but it simply wasn’t done all that much before the advent of Social Media (don’t believe me? Then please read The Cluetrain Manifesto). Brands must use real people to have real interactions with the people interested in them. Those real people must know what the brand stands for and how to communicate that. It’s about being transparent without damaging the brand. It’s about being personal within the confines of the brand narrative. And, ultimately, it’s about adding value and being helpful… it’s not about becoming someone’s best friend. It’s also not about being fake or a corporate shill. It must be authentic and transparent. It shouldn’t be creepy.

To what depths do you think a brand should go?


  1. Great article. It drives me nuts when a company asks silly questions like that. I’ve unfollowed some on Twitter for being weird like that. And others, well, it’s just plain to see that it’s not working because they get NO engagement…why can’t they see it themselves? I don’t understand.

  2. While this is true, finding that find line that shouldn’t be crossed is especially hard for brands that don’t yet put that much emphasis on all things social. Some of these brands still rely on interns or new hires to do their social media work. This may be a product of relegating the brand’s front lines to the most inexperienced in the office. Others hire an agency to take care of a few social media presences (even across countries) who then confuse offers and post in languages that don’t match the audience they are posting to. It can become a mess. Add the “best friend” tone, and most customers will run scared.
    I’ve seen one successful example of this “best friend” strategy, but it is on a Facebook with subtle branding, titled “Nicaragua Loves You.” The brand of rum that owns and runs the page mentions itself only in the Profile Picture. All the content is about Nicaragua itself — and people LOVE it. Weekend plans are definitely a hot topic — but it’s not truly and branded Page, per se. What do you think of an example like that? Could it work for brands that do seek that creepy-best-friend relationship with users?

  3. Interesting article. It is a fine balance where to draw the line between building a brand that is personable and being too personal. I am turned off by companies who try to hard to be my buddy. I think that you are on the nose when it comes to being truthful and using real people to build brands on social media and being upfront about intentions. Otherwise it can feel like an invasion of personal space.

  4. I’m actually guilty of having done this in the past. The biggest tip-off that it wasn’t working? We were still getting comments and likes, but not really from the kinds of users we wanted to engage with, and certainly not in a way that encouraged discussion of our brand.

  5. This is so true. My alma mater fails at Facebook – they keep posting stuff that’s way too personal. It’s a tough balance to strike (the other side of the pendulum is posting press releases or sounding distant and corporate), but there are ways to be warm, friendly and conversational without being creepy. Thanks for addressing this topic!

  6. Mitch,
    I think you see this lot with brands that have no identity; they end up running around trying to keep up to the “popular kids”.
    Without a clear identity and sense of purpose brands end up like that guy who shares crap like “I’m brushing my teeth now…”.
    They get the same reaction from the public as well … BLOCK!
    Mitch, you have pointed out many times that all your public efforts support YOUR brand.
    Which is the way it should be shouldn’t it? Know your brand, what you are about and support that with all your social efforts.
    Simple is it not?
    Knowing who you are yields clarity into the value you provide.
    Not knowing produces people and brands that throw crap on a wall to see what sticks….

  7. Can’t tell you enough how I hate socially awkward brands. We’ve clearly gone from one end of “check my product, check my product” to “let me ask you all sorts of silly things about your personal life, and if it resonates with you, please click like because we’re so besties!”.
    Shame. And an opportunity for us to change that.

  8. [edited]
    Can’t tell you enough how I hate socially awkward brands. We’ve clearly gone from one end of “check my product, check my product” to “let me ask you all sorts of silly things about your personal life, and if it resonates with you, please click like because we’re so besties!”. Some brands do their job on social media quite well, but most of them… they’re this annoying friend with whom you really don’t have a connection but always stop to ask about your personal life and — gasp! — share theirs.
    Shame. And an opportunity for us to change that.

  9. Thanks for the call out Mitch…it is an interesting space and balancing act, with ever changing dynamics and expectations. Just try to do best I can really. ๐Ÿ™‚

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