The Fallacy of Transparency in Social Media

The Fallacy of Transparency in Social Media

Video and social media

Spend any amount of time around social media conversations, and one word usually pops up more than any other – transparency.

People talk about social media empowering consumers, because now brands have to be “transparent” in every communication.

People talk about social media sorting the wheat from the chaff, because Google is their friend and ideas can be challenged.

People talk about snake oil salesmen losing their grip because transparency (or lack of) will eventually show the frauds from the real deal.

All good ideals. All good hopes. If it were really true.

Transparent Only If We’re Allowed to Be

The thing is, this whole “transparency thing” in social media isn’t actually happening, because we’re essentially not allowing it to happen.

There’s this unwritten rule in social media that it’s best to focus on what you can achieve versus calling out fakes and bad practices. It’s the way the social web works best, folks say.

And that may be true – but then that approach also dilutes the whole transparency argument too.

For example, there’s a very well-known blogger-turned-author in the U.S. that talks a lot about community and how humble he is to have one of the best. Yet the same blogger is quick to send nasty emails to people who don’t offer anything but platitudes for his book(s).

Then there’s the Canadian social media guy who talks a lot about how to be active online, but – much like his American counterpart – sends rather nasty emails and direct messages on Twitter to folks who dare to question his approach.

You’ll notice I didn’t refer to these two people by names (and there are many more like them). Because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s just not done in social media. People call you a hater, and you’re seen as unprofessional.

Transparency, indeed.

Rewarding Silence

Yet should we really care? After all, as so many people say, we should concentrate on what we do, right, not what others do?

The thing is, if we do that when the behaviour of some people verges on bullying, by staying silent we’re encouraging this behaviour. We’re essentially saying, “You know what, you continue to show one face in public and a completely different one in private, because it doesn’t affect us.”

But it does affect us.

It’s our friends that are being picked on. It’s our colleagues that are being affected. And, most importantly, it’s our morals that are being compromised by staying silent.

So what do we do? Do we do anything? Do we contact these people directly and say we know what’s happening and try stop it? Do we publicly question them? Or do we continue with this idea that social media has made everything transparent, so leave the status quo as it is?

The decision is yours.

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Danny Brown
Co-author Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing. #1 marketing blog in world as per HubSpot. Husband. Father. Optimist. Pragmatist. Never says no to a good single malt. You can find me on Twitter - Google+ - LinkedIn.
80 comments
Derek Fischer
Derek Fischer

The great thing about social media is that it reveals the people that are only there to push their products. This is a kind of forced transparency that reveals itself regardless of the stated intentions of the person involved. It is often the case that when someone is a bully on social media that their bad behavior is made public by their targeted victims. Both of the examples that you make run the risk of their abusive e-mails becoming Facebook status updates that reveal their real intentions and methods to the audience that they are trying to impress.

chrisboulanger
chrisboulanger

To borrow from one of your other posts, the desire for transparency is situational. Transparency in social networks is only desired when we know that the behavior has impact offline life or on our bank accounts. We want companies to tell us when their sites go down or get hacked and we want to know if customer service was poor, but we don't want the more personal/micro interactions to be called out because we don't think they really matter.  

I think this points to a difference between online communities and social networks: communities enforce some social norms because they are based around a specific situation or interest and they need to be able to interact consistently. Social networks are about modular or flexible interactions (you only see and interact with people that you want to and when you want to). 

You'll notice that long-running forums and niche communities tend to callout and punish bad behavior much more aggressively--If you are a jerk on StackOverflow, then someone is going to call you on it. The behavioral standards may vary among and within communities (e.g. Reddit), but there are standards that are upheld. There is no equivalent expectation on social network even if there might be a need for it in some cases.

Sorry for the long comment...really liked the post.

jeffreysummers
jeffreysummers

Super post Danny. I don't think you can be a thought leader without both real transparency or challenging bad thinking but the focus should obviously be on the process and not the person. 

Can't wait for the new book - hope it's on Kindle! 

Latest blog post: With Border « Bits of Fancy

OpEdMarketing
OpEdMarketing

Great post Danny.  Being "ethical" and "transparent" in Social Media is a fascinating phenomenon if you ask me.  We work at companies where we want to constantly aim to steal marketshare, outbid or undercut pricing, and celebrate when our competitor's stock plummets and ours skyrockets. Yet, when it comes to Social Media, ethical-ness is next to godliness.  Why is that?

commoncentsmom
commoncentsmom

Danny,

Last year I wrote a post on kindness. I wrote it after sitting at my desk listening to conversations and attacks and rants, and it was driving me mad. 

There is a rant, then there is a way of saying hey what is up here? I recently did say hey what is going on with the Girl Scouts but I came from the point of view as one who has a long history inside the org.  When one rants they often never have the full picture. More and more I think, of the golden rules.

PS I know that Canadian Guru, I used to be a fan way back when. I no longer am. They have changed, or maybe we are just now seeing the real person--I compare them to Rush now--some people love a good ranter even when they dont make sense.

As for transparency, it is a critical key, and one can be while staying inside company policies etc. 

AnatheaT
AnatheaT

@Karen_C_Wilson Can see both sides yet I'll never call someone out publicly. No person\/biz is perfect & I'd b opening myself up 2 criticism.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I have to say if you call someone's bullshit and you are right....you just don't get rewarded. If you keep slinging the same bullshit they are. You get rewarded. So not sure what is going on.

And what does being transparent for a brand mean? You can't post company secrets on Facebook. So the people who keep romoting this are lying. They don't even know what transparency is.


Brands just need to do two things to be social: Be honest and accountable, and be social. More brands in social media are not social than are.


Transparency? F that.

taye_eh
taye_eh

Hi Danny. Nice post thanks. There is a very well known Canadian social media "guru" who sometimes use his voice to be very critical of anyone that runs their social program in any way that differs from his notion of what is the right way. He rants on YouTube naming names and giving examples. He can totally over the top and out of line. I have often wanted to respond to his rants but man, this guy could do some serious reputation damage when he retaliates. And he will.

BlogBloke
BlogBloke

Sounds familiar ;) @RichBecker ..snake oil salesmen losing their grip ... will eventually show the frauds from the real deal.

MacLeanHeather
MacLeanHeather

Great post Danny.  Further to my tweet about this post, I have to say that you are bang on.  I think about it in terms of companies and how they want to use social media. A local company that will also remain nameless, for the reasons you mention, only wants to push messages to its customers and public stakeholders.  They also speak of openness and transparency as their guiding principles.  However, I don't think that the desire to set all social channels to not be able to comment about the company's actions demonstrates that. I go could on, but won't.  

There is such promise for social and in some cases it becomes forced transparency, because ultimately there are times when people say enough is enough.

MacLeanHeather
MacLeanHeather

@DannyBrown I have to agree. I still encounter people who want to "control" the conversation or ask if they can get posts deleted from FB

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

I came over here to see if you'd taken your ball and gone home. What I found is an interesting discussion. I agree with @JenKaneCo - there is only one person you can change. 

Yesterday I had a meeting with a prospect. I did all sorts of searching for him online before the meeting so I'd be prepared. You know what I found? Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. When I asked him about it, he relayed a story to me about his very sordid past. I was completely mesmerized. The things that have happened to him only happen in the movies. When he asked me what he should do as his company begins to use social media, I said, "TELL THAT STORY!" That is transparency and authenticity. People are going to find out your flaws anyway, so why not be the one telling it?

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

If I received one of those notes or tweets I would probably publish it. Sometimes the best way to get people to take notice is to do something that forces their hand.

JenKaneCo
JenKaneCo

The only person's behavior that I know it is within my power to change is my own. So I could call out the douches and snake oil salesmen until the cows come home, but that guarantees nothing but my own exhaustion.

If people treat me poorly in the back channel or publicly, (which has happened to me) i'll transparently say, "thank you for the DM [nasty person's name] However, I don't allow people to speak to me that way, so this conversation is over." And then I focus as much energy as possible on instead helping people in the business who have shown me compassion and appear to be doing good works (for instance, you seem to be a good egg. Albeit, I have no concrete proof to back up the assumption.)

I don't turn a blind eye to public bullying, but I also don't seek to insert myself into situations where it's happening privately.

There is just a ton of this going down at there, and for many years it ate me up inside. Nothing i did or felt about it seemed to make any difference. So, now i just focus on the big picture, "Am I happy? Is my family happy? Are my clients happy? Did I help someone who needed help?" "Did i put good content out into into my network?" If so-and-so was a total prick to someone on Facebook I note it (and will share it the next time someone in my network gushes to me about how awesome they think that person is) but i don't add rectifying it to my to do list. It is not my job to fix the prick (especially if he doesn't think he needs fixing.) No one appointed me as the barameter of what is ethical, professional and productive on the Interwebs. My opinion of people is just that. So if I am asked for it, I share it -- honestly and brutally -- but I no longer attempt to police the web with it. It's the only way I've found to work in the social space without hating it.

Neicolec
Neicolec

With regard to bullying, it's interesting to note that studies of bullies show that the biggest way to make a difference is if bystanders, the people watching, don't watch. Bullies often bully to get attention and social status. If nobody is paying attention, they don't get their reward.

Also, it turns out that the kids at the top of the social ladder don't bully. It's the kids trying to get to the top who bully, as a way to raise their status. 

I see both of this online, for sure. I see the clingers and groupies bullying to get attention and raise their status.

I don't know if the solution is to call people out for it or just for all of us "bystanders" to ignore them when it happens online. The bullying, criticism of success, and the pushiness of some people to get others to lick their boots publically all makes me sick to my stomach.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@chrisboulanger That's an interesting take, Chris (and sorry for the delayed reply, completely missed this comment, my apologies).

Completely agree with the "policing" of forums and community sites ensuring that it's pretty hard to fake anything there and get away with it. In that respect, social media is way less mature (as in advanced) than its predecessors. 

How do we transition social into similar behaviour - do we? Can we? The problem I see is so many people saying "Just ignore, don't highlight, you make yourself sound jealous" (and similar). Should we not ignore?

My gut and personal instinct says hell yeah we should challenge - but then, do people want to hear?

Great thoughts, mate.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@jeffreysummers Great point, Jeffrey - "punk" the idea, not the person.

And yes, definitely Kindle version as well as other digital versions, and I believe they'll be available a week before the print version (but don't quote me!). Cheers!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@OpEdMarketing I think it boils down to this premise that social media allows everyone a voice, mate, so we should be using it wisely and honestly. Thing is, the fact anyone can share ideas doesn't necessarily foster honesty - assholes offline will still be assholes online, they just try and hide behind a keyboard...

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@commoncentsmom There's definite wisdom in the adage "Count to 10 and then respond." Now, I'll admit to being guilty of not always following that myself, so I need to improve there too. :)

Yeah, it's funny how blinkers seem to be getting lifted online - perhaps a sign of social media maturing as we move beyond buzz and into results?

Latest blog post: The Third Wave of Influence

Karen_C_Wilson
Karen_C_Wilson

@AnatheaT That’s essentially what my gut reaction was. I think a private word is more effective anyway. Public can be humiliating.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

taye_eh I'm wondering if your guy and my guy are one and the same, Taye - I wouldn't be surprised. ;-) That's the problem with this idea of transparency - when you question a belief, you get a big retaliation, which makes you less likely to want to speak up again. Yep, that one-sided argument that results is really transparent, eh? ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@taye_eh I'm wondering if your guy and my guy are one and the same, Taye - I wouldn't be surprised. ;-)

That's the problem with this idea of transparency - when you question a belief, you get a big retaliation, which makes you less likely to want to speak up again. Yep, that one-sided argument that results is really transparent, eh? ;-)

RichBecker
RichBecker

@BLOGBloke The landscape has changed and it will again, over and over, for a very long time.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@MacLeanHeather That's a great point about the organizational side of things, Heather. When you cut off the opportunity for others to respond and/or question, it's not just the negative you're cutting off (which is the usual reason to do such things) - it's also the support that a community can offer to a brand they support when it comes under attack.

Of course, too many brands only see the negative implications of social, and then wonder why they struggle to adapt to it... 

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@ginidietrich @JenKaneCo In the examples here, though, would you advocate telling your community about your darker side? Is that what you're saying?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@JenKaneCo Such an awesome comment, Jen, thank you.

You make such valid points - I know in the example of one of the folks referenced in the post, the knowledge of the behaviour was useful in watching for it in non-connected ways and seeing how people reacted when they were put in the same position as the recipient of the email.

Perhaps that is the way ahead - knowledge is power to blacklist that person, and hopefully if that crappy behaviour continues, they'll eventually be left just to talk to themselves?

Great conversation, cheers.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Neicolec It would seem that the less attention given, the quicker "bad" behaviour would subside. I'm not sure if that would be the case in the two examples above, since each used private methods to "bully" (email and DM). It's only because each was shared through the recipient being upset and looking for support that the came to the fore. 

But yep, criticism for criticism's sake doesn't achieve anything, especially when success is defined differently by each of us.

AnatheaT
AnatheaT

@Karen_C_Wilson Also, I'm going for Ms Congeniality of Twitter title (see: bio) and calling someone out would hurt my chances. ;)

taye_eh
taye_eh

Danny Brown OK - I did it... left a comment sticking up for a poor unsuspecting real estate agent. Eek. Bracing for the fall out ....

taye_eh
taye_eh

@Danny Brown OK - I did it... left a comment sticking up for a poor unsuspecting real estate agent. Eek. Bracing for the fall out .... 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@Danny Brown Oh wait. I see what you're saying. You mean in the two you mention in the blog post? I think it's all perception. I know I used to do a fantastic job of reading and commenting on blog posts daily, engaging on the social networks, and building community. But life gets in the way, you know? I still try really hard, but some days I can barely keep up with the stuff that needs to be done to keep the business growing, let alone try to keep a super high-level of engagement going.

That said, if someone criticizes me, I don't send nasty notes or DMs. That's a character flaw.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@Danny Brown In this particular example, we are advocating he tell the story. That way he's in front of it and no one can find it and then a scandal ensues. It's a sordid story, but it's fascinating. It's not like he's POTUS sleeping with an intern.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

@AmyVernon

Some of them have been living in their ivory towers for so long they have forgotten that not everyone loves them or thinks they are great. So they get sloppy and figure nothing can tear them down.

You are right about the backlash. Some of the communities fight to protect their "leaders" because they have spent so much time drinking the Kool-Aid they fear finding out/admitting the emperor has no clothes.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@Danny Brown @Neicolec Well, and perhaps we can take another cue from what they do in schools. When a bullying incident comes to the attention of the teachers, the class or support group will meet as a whole and say something like, "This incident happened...Was it appropriate? What can we do about this kind of behavior as a community?" They don't point out the actual students, though, as that just gets them defensive and embarrasses them. The focus is on the problem.

Not that it always helps. You've got people who just don't care. Mark Schaefer has a post on his blog today about cheating in social media. It's a similar mentality. There are people that will cross lines to get ahead and their worldview and morality is such that they just don't feel bad about it. Peer pressure may have some effect, but often not.

I'm just glad there are good folk out there like you, Danny. And I try to surround myself with those good folk and not participate with the unethical ones.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Frank_Strong @AmyVernon That's a fair point, Frank - in additional fairness, though, I think Amy would agree with the context of your point, and knowing Amy as I do, I know she'd only be referring to the type of charlatans, for want of a better word, used as an example in this post.

Latest blog post: The Business of Influence

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@AmyVernon @Danny Brown This makes me cringe.  Transparency isn't a bad word.  I think the point of Danny's post was about when it is used improperly -- when someone recommends everyone else be transparent but doesn't follow their own advice.  

I advocating for caution:  sometimes calls to action like this take on a life of their own and I'd be saddened to see someone with good practices and intentions get skewered as a result.  

danielghebert
danielghebert

taye_eh Danny Brown I think we're all referring to the same guy. I checked out the video attacking the real-estate agent - your comment doesn't show (that's if we're talking about the same guy, which I think we are).

danielghebert
danielghebert

@taye_eh @Danny Brown I think we're all referring to the same guy. I checked out the video attacking the real-estate agent - your comment doesn't show (that's if we're talking about the same guy, which I think we are).

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Neicolec Oh, I'm not that good, Neicole - I just try to be less of an ass than the next person. Sometimes it works - others... ;-)

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