Social Media Professionals Can’t Handle the Truth

I’ve been doing an experiment recently. A few years ago, I decided to be 100% transparent about my personal political, spiritual, and other beliefs on my Facebook page. That wasn’t the experiment… that was just me being me. My point wasn’t to offend others; it was simply to be truly transparent. After all, that’s what social media professionals keep telling us, right? They keep saying that social media offers this incredible opportunity to connect with one another and be transparent.

They’re lying.

My experiment started a few weeks ago. I stopped posting any controversial posts on my Facebook page and just stuck to discussing those topics when other people brought it up on their pages. This is anecdotal, but the experiment resulted in me coming to three conclusions:

  1. I’m more popular when I shut up and keep my opinions to myself. That’s right, people don’t want to know me or want me to be transparent, they just want the persona. This includes my friends, my family, other companies, other colleagues… everyone. They’ve been interacting with my posts more the less controversial they are. No wonder why cat videos rule the Internet.
  2. Most social media consultants lack any insight into their personal lives, problems, beliefs, and controversial issues online. Don’t believe me? Go to your favorite social media guru’s personal Facebook page and look for anything controversial. I don’t mean jumping on public bandwagons – which they often do – I mean taking a stance against the status quo.
  3. Most social media consultants despise respectful debate. The next time that your favorite social media professional who did a speech or wrote a book on transparency jumps on the bandwagon, and you disagree with them… state so on their Facebook page. They hate it. No less than 3 times have I been asked by a colleague to get off their page and take my opinion somewhere else. Others unfollowed and unfriended me when they discovered I had opposing beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate. I love a great debate and I don’t pull my punches. Social media tends to lean in one direction while I often lean in the other direction on many controversial topics. I don’t disagree with people just to disagree – I’m simply trying to be honest and transparent about my personal beliefs. And I do my utmost to remain factual and impersonal… although I don’t hold back on sarcasm.

You often hear online and in the media, we need an honest conversation. Bogus… most people don’t want honesty, they just want you to jump on their bandwagon. They’ll like you, share your updates, and buy from you when they figure out that you agree with them. The truth about social media is:

You can’t handle the truth.

I even had one keynote speaker come up to me at a national event, give me a bear hug, and tell me that he loves the stand that I take on topics online… he just can’t say so publicly. He’s never liked nor shared any opinion or article I’ve shared on my Facebook page although he follows me. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but that basically tells me that his online persona is phony, carefully sculpted to ensure its popularity while not putting his paychecks at risk.

So I can’t help but wonder. What else do these people say online that are simply crafted to be popular, and not necessarily to be the truth? As we deploy social media strategies for our clients, we often find that what’s popular never has quite the impact as what’s edgy.

Here’s some transparency and honesty for you – most social media professionals are liars and should just admit it. They should toss out their BS advice about transparency and tell companies that, if they wish to maximize reach and acceptance, they should avoid controversy, jump on the popularity bandwagon, craft a phony persona… and watch the profits grow. In other words – follow their lead and lie.

After all… who cares about integrity and honesty when there’s money to be made.

26 Comments

  1. 1

    Doug,

    For what it’s worth, I love your transparency online. It’s refreshing and I like to think I know you well enough to understand your desire for respectful debate. I like people who are honest online and off. I’d encourage you to keep being yourself.

  2. 2

    I am not a social media professional although some people like to put me in that box. I am just curious, do you classify me as someone who cannot handle the truth, does not enjoy debate and shuns transparency?

  3. 4

    OK Doug, I’ll say I disagree with you, depending on what the nature of the stand one is taking and the context of the engagement.

    If the argument or stand one makes is in the area of business, of perspectives on marketing, social media, etc, and someone doesn’t disagree or agree openly when it’s controversial, then they are not being authentic.

    If the argument is on religion, politics, personal values not in a business contexts, and they stay silent, this doesn’t mean they are being phony or preserving a false persona. They may feel as I do that there is a time and place for different discussions.

    My question is, are you really this outraged about this or just painting with a wide brush to get readers to be more authentic? I try to be rational and avoid hyperbole in my posts and responses, and they don’t get as much action as the emotion-filled, “no skimping on the sarcasm” posts. Good thing I’m not a social media guru.

    • 5

      Well quite the mess of a post, submitted it before I had a chance to edit it…As I said, definitely not a social media guru (especially when it comes to knowing how to edit posts I make from my phone…)

      Hopefully my point was clear, that sarcasm and emotion get replies but aren’t always appropriate or authentic either.

    • 6

      My point is pretty simple… that most professionals that provide advice on social media don’t even follow their own advice. Transparency and communication aren’t effective unless they’re honest and forthright. IMO, most of the reasons we have issues online is the inability of people to speak their mind and have an honest conversation, or the intolerance of those in social media to respect those who have a differing opinion. Either way, it’s not helping companies to communicate effectively with their customers – or vice versa.

  4. 7

    This courtroom is out of order!

    I say when you turn some people off, you turn some people on. Say what you will Doug (I know you will). Certainly there are oodles of hypocrites spouting on about authenticity and then demonstrating their truth is nothing but middle of the road, so I’m glad you proclaimed it.

    I think no matter where you’re yakking, if you get into politics you’ll piss people off. Please do. Social media is supposed to help democratize the conversation, right?

  5. 9
  6. 11

    This is a great piece, Doug. Saying the social media Emperor has no clothes is a rare expression of authentic transparency.

    But I think singling out “social media consultants” for criticism is too narrow. The fear of being a social media outcast limits sharing by all but the most rebellious among us.

    There’s little doubt that social media fosters conformity and political correctness. It’s just the nature of the medium.

  7. 13

    How I’ve addressed this is that I tend to keep to business on LinkedIn and personal on Facebook. Twitter gets a light mix of both. As as result, I am A LOT more selective on who I friend or accept friend requests from on Facebook. I want them to know me personally and, thus, they typically aren’t surprised by my opinions and/or they know that I enjoy a respectful discussion or debate.

    With this approach, I find that I can share my opinions and engage in discussions while still keeping my relationships.

  8. 16

    This was truly a thought provoking post. How willing am I to be real when business is involved? Will my position offend someone who is doing business with me or will do business with me? I am not good at the on-line social stuff so I tend to not post on a regular basis. My mom used to tell me to stay away from political and religious topics. For the most part, people have factual information, opinions and gossip (FOG). The debates that seem stuck in the mud are the ones where gossip and opinion rule. I have a tendency to disguise my emotions on a topic as logic. Most people do the same thing. It is only when I can check my emotions (and others do the same) on a topic that I can move away from an opinion and gossip and have a productive conversation. Thanks Doug for a thought provoking post!

    • 17

      Thank you! And I agree… I just wish we were brave enough to respect differences and stop running away from debate. There seems to be a notion in this country that you’re either with me or against me… instead of simply different from me.

  9. 18

    A couple of thoughts if I may.

    1. Humans are tribal and crave order and efficiency. They do not like those who continually disrupt the order and tend to banish them to the wilderness. This is also true in social media. No medium is going to eliminate thousands of years of ingrained behavior in a couple of years. The social media movement hasn’t changed the way humans *truly* interact with each other. Rather, it has found a way for humans to satisfy that deep tribal need online. That is why it took off like a rocket. It isn’t new. It enables something that is very, very old.

    2. I’ve thought lately that, rather than calling this the ‘digital’ age, future historians will refer the years from 1995 to 2030 as the ‘Era of Narcissism’. As I commented above, the web and social media are not drivers of change, They are only media that enable and reflect what individuals and tribes think and feel. In this very early digital age, we have generally used social media as a way for all to achieve the proverbial ’15 minutes of fame’ rather than truly driving deep and lasting social change. As with radio and television before, social media has quickly descended to being a medium for the currently famous to bolster their images (e.g., Donald Trump) and for everyone with a mouth and a keyboard to become a ‘thought leader’, or ‘change agent’, or ‘growth hacker’. We’re continually playing a game of inventing new buzzwords to show that we somehow have new ideas (again…growth hacking), and that we should be lauded as thought leaders. We’ve also cheapened words like, ‘genius’, ‘thought leader’, ‘guru’ and others. It appears that every other person on LinkedIn is one or more of the above, even though his/her claim to fame was to ‘overhaul’ his/her family’s floral business website and move them marginally up the SEO ladder. Humility and ethics are largely afterthoughts at the moment, while fame and personality are the currency of the day. I do think there will be a new era at some point once the ‘big bang’ has ebbed, but until then, it’s generally all about me and how I can use you to achieve my ends.

    My $0.02

    • 19

      Thought provoking. But I’d also add that it’s often those that leave the heard and that are called ‘narcissists’ that advance humanity. If you’re just part of the herd, you may be part of the problem!

  10. 20
  11. 22

    I’m with Barry Feldman. “… when you turn some people off, you turn some people on.” I’ve always maintained that my opinions are my own and no one else’s on my social channels. And I enjoy being called out my folks who don’t share my points of view. But I also agree with you that there are some people who are afraid to engage in debate and would rather play it safe. They may even agree with me but won’t hit that “like” button for fear of being found out. I’m not one of them. I like edgy people and brands.

  12. 23

    I think the difference is that some people voice their beliefs without judging others if they disagree. I stopped following someone the other day that I really respected because he tweeted “the idiots who believe that…” and I happened to be one of those “idiots.” I think the world has forgotten that we can disagree while still respecting that others may have arrived at a different conclusion from the same facts.

  13. 25

    One thing I struggle with a lot is that publications and politicians get paid to take a stance, as a business person you risk alienating prospects and customers. Of course I’ve never preached transparency so I think I’m in the clear 😉

    • 26

      So true. I’m sure my rants have lost me some clients and prospects. However, I’d rather work with folks that respected that I might have a different viewpoint than one that didn’t. It’s a tough choice, for sure.

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