The Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

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Social Media is a funny thing. By "funny thing" I mean that it is sometimes very pathetic.

Few people are able to identify their own narcissism (I’ve Blogged about this before: Confessions Of A Narcissist), but it’s there and it exists. Being humble is the ability to not only identify your own narcissism, but being able to work with it. Narcissism isn’t inherently bad unless you let it get out of control. I’m reminded of the story that Jeffrey Gitomer often tells to an audience when discussing the power of closing a sale. He asks the audience this question: "in the middle of a business situation, who is the most important person in the room? You or your customer?" Naturally, most people say, "the customer!" Gitomer then goes on to ask: "if you and your customer are in a room and one of you has to drop dead, who do you want it to be?" It’s a funny line, but it illustrates my point: self-preservation over everything else (a little narcissism is a good thing).

If you’re telling people to be open and transparent in Social Media, shouldn’t you do the same?

I’ve seen multiple instances in Social Media recently that have led me to think about the saying: "practice what you preach." In the past little while there have been a handful of Digital Marketing professionals (who are super accusatory of brands and how transparent they are in Social Media) make the same move: they get a new gig and they spend multiple paragraphs Blogging about this great new opportunity (how thrilled they are to be joining such a world-class team, the people and clients they will be working with, how important of a step this is in their professional development, etc…). It’s all over their other online channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) with lots of bravado and chest-thumping.


Then, six to eighteen months later, the job didn’t work out, they’re no longer at the company, the word is out on the street, but there’s no mention of it anywhere in their online streams. Not a peep. Nada. It’s business as usual. When you think about it, it’s understandable. Who wants to now Blog or tweet about how it didn’t work out? How it wasn’t as great as they thought it might be and the experience certainly didn’t live up to the expectations set forward in those initial Blog posts and Facebook status updates. It’s difficult to be self-critical, isn’t it?

There’s a big Marketing lesson here.

Brands (and individuals) do control their messaging. They can decide how much personal information they want to integrate into their streams of content within the social channels. The challenge is that our human nature wants to know more and more personal information, so those that publish in that vein need to take caution with this. Because, in the end, if all you’re doing is promoting the good stuff and hiding the not-so-good, all authenticity is gone and – to make matters worse – your credibility is lost to. What looks worse: saying nothing about it (especially when everyone knows about the big change) or writing a Blog post about lessons learned, how you feel about it not working out and what you’re going to do about it next? It’s not an easy thing to do, but aren’t we constantly telling our clients how difficult Social Media can be?

If you’re constantly pushing brands to be open and transparent about the good, the bad and the ugly, shouldn’t you be held to the same high standard?


  1. It’s a funny thing, that transparency. In reality we can never be fully transparent, we can only be more transparent. There always have to be limits on what we share and say. The question is, where are the dividing lines?

  2. Great post, important question.
    I think if it’s possible to summarize what’s happening to marketing right now in terms that don’t include the word “technology”, it’s that brands are being restored to communities. We all nod. Yes, marketing is a conversation, now. Yes, the consumer is empowered. Yes, we are not in full control anymore, and we build our reputations through our behaviour rather than our messages. Yes.
    But we have to be careful not to decouple the concept of community from the concept of commerce. I am part of my plumber’s community. I respect him and I trust him and, as far as is necessary, I like him. But I don’t necessarily want him dropping by unannounced for a beer. I don’t want to hear about his marital problems or his mysterious rash. The plumber’s first obligation is to be useful and to be present. I’m interested in his character insofar as it authenticates his value and is maybe a little entertaining, but no further. Narcissism, to be commercially valuable, has to be tempered by humility.
    For my money, that’s the approach marketers need to take to this space. If we get invited to go further by the community we sell to, then great. Accept the invitation and make a contribution. But absent that, be useful and apply your character to proving how motivated you are. Familiarity, if it’s not attached to value, really can breed contempt. Even on Twitter.
    Thanks as always, Mitch.

  3. … I’d add on that we’re not all that transparent. What we present online is really more of a representation of what we want the world to see us as. That concept is worthy of it’s own Blog post. The majority of people don’t share who they really are but a projected perception of it.

  4. Great post, Mitch. It often seems people are hiding more in their social networking than revealing anything worthwhile. It’s an unintended consequence of the personal brand building game so many are playing.
    We are used to play different roles: Employer, Father, Husband, Neighbor etc. Social Media had the promise we could put away the costume and the game face for a while. Instead, it added another role we have to play. One platform at a time.
    I wonder if this trend will continue or if we’re going to find a more balanced and human approach. This applies to individuals as well as brands.

  5. Great POV. And it’s a good question. It takes a strong confidence in ones self to be “live in public”. I remember this myself when I broadcasted my life on Justin.TV for 3 months (when it was in BETA). There were 6 of us in the U.S. doing this, and it was an entirely knew degree of “openness and transparency”. Ultimately, my convictions and opinions were put to the test- and I realized the power of “living online” <– and really the effects of having to share the good and the bad. It’s the details that create the intimacy.

  6. Complete transparency would have us all running around naked and completely unhinged. Social media gives us the opportunity (personally and for brands) to have, not transparency, but a form of edited reality. The editing is required by virtue of having an audience. If I had to see every minor or irrelevant thing that happened with a brand I would immediately unsubscribe.
    For example, we all have Facebook friends who overshare or bore us to tears with their monotonies. When I used foursquare, I usually only checked in at places were a little more interesting.
    Every time I hear some talk about “nakedness” or “complete transparency” I think to myself, there is someone who doesn’t understand marketing, communications or even business…

  7. Great post, Mitch! Perhaps we should be, and expect from others, TRANSLUCENCY instead of transparency? Like shower door glass. You can see a figure, but cannot make out details.

  8. Good perspective Mitch.
    Doug – I agree with your points.
    For my two cents, at a macro-level, this whole meme rings of that old phrase “the person you see in the mirror everyday is not the same person everyone else sees”.
    Quite a number of individuals – marketers and non – have been playing the “brand of you / personal brand” to a fault. In a music analogy, they approach everything as a power chord every chance they get versus the subtlety of a well timed and tasteful solo. Anyone with five minutes to spare can learn a power chord. The intricacies of using the instrument properly takes time, effort and above all, discipline.
    End of the day, it’s no surprise that the message is being controlled and posturing/positioning trumps transparency. And likely always will regardless of the channel(s) being employed.
    All that said, even though many people wax poetic about being open and transparent etc, they are ill-prepared for the reality of what that means!

  9. Well said Mr. Joel,
    As I was reading this post, I was reminded of one of my favorite lines from a movie
    “The sweet is never as sweet without the sour” ~ Vanilla Sky
    Its becoming increasingly challenging for business / people, to be authentic because of this very reason. We want to be seen as the hero, someone who never falls, never makes a mistake.
    But, the best the hero is often pledged with choices gone wrong. The difference is that they hold themselves accountable for their actions, correct the wrong, and because of this, often have their hero status increased.
    It’s basic physics – everything has an equal and opposite reaction.

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