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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157 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.

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.

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

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!

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?

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?

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

DannyBrown Mr_McFly MerlinUWard DrewNeisser kevinGEEdavis IAmMrSid Oh dear, what have I unleashed?

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

Some of my friends in NY and I tweet "#SaranWrap" every time we're at a conference or panel session or any similar place and a speaker mentions transparency. It's one of the worst terms in buzzword bingo.

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. 

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.

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.

HowieG
HowieG

I have to say if you call someone's bullshit and you are right....you just don't get rewarded. If you keep slingingthe 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.

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.

caleneece
caleneece

20 year old company announces: Think about how much time everyone spends every day... On the phone (local & long distance)... Watching television... Sending text messages... Surfing the internet... Using natural gas and electricity... Imagine if you got paid every time someone did any of those things and more... This is what ACN is all about! http://cnlinc.acndirect.com http://cnlinc.acnibo.com

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

My 2012 review included the words 'you are too transparent'. :)

taye_eh
taye_eh

Hi Danny. Nice post thanks.  There is a very well known Canadian social media "guru" who drives me nuts.  He can 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 of how someone got it wrong and how stupid of them blah blah blah... He can be 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 to me when he retaliates. And he will. One day I will get the nerve to stop being a pathetic bystander and call him on it. He will probably respond with a YouTube video holding me up as an example of some pathetic loser that dare question him. That's just his way... I've seen those videos from him as well. Your post inspired me to take action. Next rant from him, I promise I'm on it!  Who cares about retaliation? (well me... maybe, kinda) I'll refer back to this group when I need someone to say "there, there taye, everything's going to be ok."

taye_eh
taye_eh

Hi Danny. Nice post thanks. 

There is a very well known Canadian social media "guru" who drives me nuts.  He can 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 of how someone got it wrong and how stupid of them blah blah blah... He can be 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 to me when he retaliates. And he will. One day I will get the nerve to stop being a pathetic bystander and call him on it. He will probably respond with a YouTube video holding me up as an example of some pathetic loser that dare question him. That's just his way... I've seen those videos from him as well.

Your post inspired me to take action. Next rant from him, I promise I'm on it! 

Who cares about retaliation? (well me... maybe, kinda) I'll refer back to this group when I need someone to say "there, there taye, everything's going to be ok."

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.

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

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

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

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

AmyVernon Can we try get that to trend sometime? :)

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?

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Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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?

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

HowieG Company transparency always makes me smile, Howie, because, yes, financial deals and patents are going to be made public via Twitter. ;-)

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? ;-)

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

Danny Brown We should try to plan that out. I have a whole group of people who'd love nothing more than to get #saranwrap to trend. :)

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 ....

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.

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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.  

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

Danny Brown Frank_Strong Precisely, Danny. The problem is, most of the time when it's mentioned during these conferences and the like, it's more in the sense of Danny's post than true transparency.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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.

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 it's used in properly 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).

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