True Transparency?

Photo cred: Jey-Heich
Photo cred: Jey-Heich

This is a post I’ve been pondering for a while, but was hesitant as up to this point I haven’t necessarily practiced what I’m about to preach…and I’m sure a lot of people won’t like what I’m about to say, but I’ve decided it needs to be said.

I love social media (or at least the concept that is referred to as social media). I love what it does for communication.  I love what it does for community building.

One of the major concepts of social media is transparency.  Be yourself, act human, don’t lie or cover up anything, just be open about who you are and the things you do and your followers/readers/customers will appreciate you.

This concept has brought out the best in many, as the social web, namely twitter, has become a go-to location to find advice or answers when you’re facing a problem.  Almost everyone is ready and willing to take time out of their day to help you when you need it.  Everyone is supportive of (it seems like) everyone.  It’s truly amazing…but is it truly transparent?

Are we replacing the “formal”, nontransparent restrictions of the past’s professional community with restrictions of nontransparent, kindness?  Is this really who we are ?

Maybe the answer is yes, and I’m confident that given the career path chosen by those involved in this community, many of us are good people with good hearts.  Is it a matter of bringing out the best in us? Or, are we becoming overly kind and complimentary just to appeal/conform to the community?  Has the concept of sharing and contributing to the community committed us to sharing and contributing things that are not actually worthy of such promotion?

My point is that we preach transparency, but are we truly being transparent in our online communities?  Is it a bad thing to be so complimentative and supportive of each other? It’s certainly better than the alternative, cut-throat business values.  The problem is it’s laying a veil of falsities over the people and content we share, placing value on things that are not actually valuable.

There are a few people that this does not even apply to.  The people that are able to be generous, sharing, helpful etc…but still call it as they see it.  They’re not afraid to call issues or people out, respectfully, and keep true to their true, transparent personality.

Don’t replace honesty with a false concept of transparency.

Please…share your thoughts.

78 thoughts on “True Transparency?

  1. Great thoughts, I think the difficulty people have with transparency is that twitter is such a open communications tool and with everything you post available to everyone with a simple search people are ensuring that they manage their online profile. Myself personally am still trying to find a balance of how to use twitter and have found myself more quiet as of recently trying to determine what kind of voice I want to represent on this site.

    1. Kevin,

      Thank you for the comment and I think you nailed it. What you’re experiencing is something that everyone faces when they begin to build their “social persona” for the first time. That’s the issue I hoped to point out. Many people aren’t building a transparent persona but rather the persona that they’d like people to see online.

  2. You raise a good point David. People want to be liked, and one way to be liked is to be nice. But I do think that sometimes we value being “nice” over being critical – and I don’t mean critical in a bad way, but more in the sense that we don’t stop to think critically. It’s much easier to write a glowing comment that says “Great post!” and list reasons why you agree then to pick apart someone’s argument and show why you think someone is misguided. Furthermore, very few people are able to be critical with the tactfulness required such that they still come off as “nice.” But I think those who do will be seen as the truly brilliant minds.


    1. Amy,

      Very well put. Those are pretty much my thoughts exactly.

      Interesting point that some people may not know how to be critical in a manner that is respectful and “nice”. The unfortunate part is that any experienced blogger would probably much rather you tell them what you think they’re wrong about than you tell them how great they are. Criticism can be more valuable.

  3. I think there’s definitely an echo chamber mentality in a lot of social media discussions, with a lot nonsense and hyperbole going unchallenged because of who’s saying it. Geoff Livingston had a thoughtful post about this a while back, “Nice Guys Finish Last Online” (, and I love @amandachapel for her hyper-critical, not-nice-at-all watchdog approach on Twitter.

    Being critical won’t win you a lot of “friends” in the short-term, but if it’s legit, thoughtful and offered with some level of tact, the connections you make will be much more valuable and productive.


    1. Guy,

      Welcome to the conversation. I think that’s a big part of the problem. The same way people want results NOW and are afraid to sacrifice fast numbers for quality numbers in the long term, people want to create a lot of relationships NOW. Bring overly generous is a good way to make quick relationships but true respect will come from long-term, honest communication.

      I don’t think people need to always be critical, unless that’s their personality. They can also be overly generous if that’s their personality. I’d assume most people are somewhere in the middle. Now they need to start showing it.

  4. Really good point you bring up here, David. The question is whether your transparency is authentic or not? Are you contributing to the community, whether it be Twitter or blogs, with what you feel passionate about – or are you contributing to just contribute? To feel like you’re a ‘part’ of the community, even though deep down inside you’re commenting because it’s the nice thing to do, or because you just want to be seen.

    These are questions I think a lot of people need to ask themselves in this space. Do we agree with every single thing that our family or friends do or say? Probably not. What makes this social setting any different?

    It’s definitely an interesting look at the psychology of ‘social’ people. Thanks for this post.

    1. I hoped that this post wouldn’t be so much a “this is how you should do it” but more of a “take a look at how you’re doing it and see if it’s right”. We sometimes get caught up in the flow of things, especially in this setting. This sensation of overgenerosity has definitely swept a lot of the social space. Is it good for the community? That’s what we have to ask ourselves.

      Thanks for the contribution Sonny.

  5. In the end I think that online communities are no different from any other kind of community: an unspoken code of conduct is created and people operate within that system. Social networks have the added complexity of the tangible and transparent measures of followers, or links, or friends, and that causes a lot people to use the community as a game that can be won (or at least have that thought on some level). When you’re playing a game you’re not necessarily your whole true self; you’re the version of yourself that you think will do best in the game.

    At its core, social networking has self promotion as a primary function. I believe in aligning how you promote yourself with who you are (which I think is what you’re talking about in this post), but given the nature of the communities we’re talking about, there’s probably a limit to how aligned you can truly be.

    1. “you’re the version of yourself that you think will do best in the game.”

      Great point. When everything is done on a computer screen, it takes on a surrealism where you don’t have to be the same person you are in real life. You can actually be an entirely different individual. The fact that you bring up the word “game” is really interesting. This is definitely a concept that I’ve found to be present in my online gaming experiences. Many online gamers completely change their personality when online, perhaps to the personality that they’d like to have in real life…in real life, it’s not that easy.

      So based on your last point, do you think it’s inevitable that people will change their personality at least a little bit as a result of the self promotion function?

      1. Yep. But in my opinion that’s probably a good thing, since what social networks value is support. For a long time I feel like our culture has under-valued community and supportiveness, and if the paradigm that people are taking up puts a premium on those things, then that’s pretty great.

        1. So pretty much, we’re substituting a bad mask for a good one…but we’re still wearing masks.

          It’s definitely better than the values of the past, but is it the best? I don’t think so. When we can just take of the masks and be ourselves, I think, is when we’ll be in the best position.

          1. But David, that’s one of the problems we have as a society – “being yourself” has become equated with “being a jerk”. There’s lots of fantasy about being able to go around pissing everyone off and still have an admirable (or even tolerable) life, but the reality is that that only works in a society that is so rich that one can live on the margins of many different communities without having to become part of any of them in a meaningful way.

            Real societies, lasting communities, those are composed mainly of supportive, positive people that work together, whether they initially like it or not. It’s hard to survive otherwise. What you appear to call “wearing a mask” seems to me to be what I’d call “self-improvement”. I may not like you, but you’re smarter than I am, so I had better act as if I like you until I learn to do it for real.

            Amber Naslund had a great post on this a couple of days ago. For me, what it comes down to is not the behavior, but the intent behind it. If you want to build the community, even if you suck at it, people will learn to live with you and help you. If you are smooth like melted butter but you’re just out for yourself, people will get that, too. And you’ll be in trouble. I think Chris is saying that social networks help us not only find those that are supportive to the community, but also reinforces that supportiveness is a GOOD thing, and helps us want to become more supportive.

            And if he’s right, and I think he is, then I agree that that’s a pretty great thing.

            1. Right on, I think you’ve got a good idea of where my head was going with this post.

              I absolutely agree with your points. My issue is that there is a balance in communities that allows them to function efficiently. You can’t go around criticizing everyone, even if you wanted to…you also can’t forget the occasional need for criticism. Everything isn’t a valuable contribution and to pretend it is does not help your community. I think we may have tipped that balance a little too much toward the end where we’re forgetting the need for occasional criticism.

  6. Nice post, David. And I mean that honestly!

    I think you’ve directly hit on a top criticism of Twitter and social media in general. Many people I talk to think that there are too many people out there shamelessly complimenting everyone in sight so that they can build their own audience. Of course, it’s easy to make “friends” when all you do is compliment others, but to your point, what value does that really add? Does it really matter? These are certainly valid questions to ask, and the transparency topic is great for self-reflection. I try to think about it regularly myself.

    As an example, just yesterday I Tweeted that you are a rock star. It was unprompted, and could have been seen by you or others as a play to win your favor. Well, I meant it – you add a lot of value, are engaging and furthering “the conversation” and that photo shows some personality. This post is another example of that. I think all of that is great stuff, and I complimented you not caring at all about how I might be viewed or what I might receive in return. But, sure, there are people out there who could have looked at that and questioned my motives.

    I guess, at the end of the day, that the people that are cognizant of transparency are the ones who are more likely to practice and uphold it. Single messages can be received in many different ways, but if the sender’s intent is true, that will shine through over time. And I agree that transparency is an ideal we should all strive for, just as much in the online world as in real life.


    1. Jason, thank you very much for the compliments, yet again. My goal certainly isn’t that people stop being so supportive/complimentative…just that they’ll be sincere about it, as I know you are.

  7. Hi David,

    This is a great post and I am thrilled that you stepped up to say this. I agree with Sonny about the important questions to ask when becoming engaged in, or creating, a community. These questions go along with what Li and Bernoff said in their Groundswell book about being “enthusiastic.”

    Enthusiasm about participating in a community can lead to truth, and truth is more important than simply coming off as being transparent. Truly wanting to take part in a community is what really jump starts a communication relationship. I feel like I would be more interested in the organization that says that the bottom-line is still the number one priority, but engaging in communities will hopefully help the bottom-line, along with the communities we listen to and talk to.

    Too many companies think that because they are using social technologies, they are now the transparent, ethical company that is the angel to AIG’s (or any other Enron-like company) devil.

    It’s how you say in your post, transparency is synonymous with truth.



    1. Another good point Rich. In terms of companies, many tend to assume that their use of social tools to connect with communities make them honest and truthful, when in fact, they’re also putting on a mask to appeal to their customers. I think it’s a bit harder to expect true and complete transparency from a company than it is to expect it of an individual professional though.

      It’s impossible to follow the idea that “the customer is alright right” while staying honest and transparent.

  8. The web has its own culture. That’s a big point, IMO. Do I act exactly the same online as in person? No. But I also don’t text people the same way I call or email them. Each communication method is different and IMO, the best way to approach them is to adapt to each.

    I wrote a post a while back about whether sarcasm works online. In person, I’m really sarcastic but online I try not to be because it doesn’t come across as effectively.

    Does that not mean I’m not authentic because I use less sarcasm online than in person? I don’t think so. I’m still me, but since sarcasm is tough to interpret via reading, I use it less to make sure my intent comes across.

    “Are you contributing to the community, whether it be Twitter or blogs, with what you feel passionate about – or are you contributing to just contribute?”

    Think Sonny summed it up right there. Are you following your passion online, or just going after the high target areas?

    If you’re honest to yourself and your community and follow your passion, that’s transparent, IMO. If you’re just trying to put on a friendly face to get the most followers when in reality you’re not very friendly and not passionate about that area, that’s not transparent.

    In the end, it comes down to intent, which is of course extremely difficult to figure out. But I don’t think people can hide their intent forever, eventually their true goals will come out. So my question would be, if people found out your true intent, would they be shocked or would they think it fits your online persona? If it’s the latter, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

    1. Adam, thanks for joining the conversation. Agreed on all the points you brought up. The altering your demeanor based on the form of communication is a good observation…that is certainly reasonable and isn’t part of the problem. You personality however, isn’t necessarily how you talk or your “style”, it’s your values, decisions and beliefs that define who you are. If you can sincerely live up to those things online, then you are being authentic.

  9. David you write and think years beyond your age. (I have been complimentay and perhaps an old crumudgen at once 😉 ) Important to note that social platforms are still all things considered toddlers, with a pile of growing pains ahead. I would like to think that this new style of communication engagement will change how we act towards each other. Honest, critical but respectful. I whiff on the latter a lot.

    1. “I would like to think that this new style of communication engagement will change how we act towards each other.”

      To some extent, I do see this working. I’ve had conversations with “web workers” and we’ve all noted that it seems like direct competition is less fierce online. For example, Pepsi and Coca Cola would likely never help each other, but two bloggers in the same niche would likely help each other often. That web culture I was talking about, co-operation is ingrained into it.

      I believe the web started as a way for scientists to share data so it makes sense that there’s more co-operation and a helping attitude online than offline.

    2. Thanks for the compliment and for your honesty Patrick. I certainly believe that as this forms of communication develop, we will become better at using them. This is new to us and so we are going to make missteps. The important thing is that we realize them and learn.

  10. You raise a valid point that I think is often overlooked, David.

    Sometimes when I’m reading a blog post by one of the big hitters, the comments almost knock me for six with how sugar-coated they are. There may be glaring errors in the post factually or from a business perspective, but still the comments are, “Great post, you always know what to say” or “Thanks for being who you are and keeping us part of your community”.

    I’m all for giving kudos where kudos is due, but this type of behaviour almost harks back to the nerdy kid wanting to be liked by the cheerleader at school.

    Instead of being cool, it’s just showing you up as a groupie.

    Also, some of these guys you might be fawning over have shown that they’re often no more than bandwagon jumpers. Two A-lister names spring out consistently in that regard…

    1. Thanks Danny. Certainly an issue when it comes to many of the who’s who of social media. It seems too that when someone is actually critical of them, it’s usually just for the sake of being critical, rather than with good reasoning and respect. Both ends of the spectrum really help no one, not even yourself if you’re the one doing complimenting/criticizing. I guess that just comes with the territory when you’re that popular though, unfortunately.

  11. Excellent post. Some people are genuinely nice & I don’t think mean to be “dishonest” about it. Personally, I’m not afraid to stir the pot a little, if I think it’s a pot worth stirring. Kind of like my parenting philosophy…I choose what hill I want to die on. I TRY to be honest and kind, but if I have to make a choice…it’ll be honest every time. (why would I have to make that choice, is my question) I had someone tell me once that I was too honest. The implication being that I would not be successful. C’est la vie!

    1. Thanks for sharing Cindy. I don’t think that anyone will hinder your success for being honest, as long as you’re honest when it’s necessary, and you’re respectful. If you’re being honest isn’t going to affect anything, sometimes it’s okay to let things go…that’s just my opinion.

  12. Great thoughts, David, and I’d like to add something that neither you nor other commenters wrote:

    Company openness.

    I frequently stumble across companies who have web presences, but little information about what the company is doing. That is, there is information on the corporate mission and other “brochure-like” language, but few announcements on how the company keeps busy, contracts they’ve been awarded, projects they’re working on, etc.

    At least once a week, I learn about firms whose websites, twitter feeds, etc say one thing but emails with their staff say something else. The companies are transparent but not open.

    1. Valid addition. I think there’s an extent to which you can reasonably expect a company to be open though. The equivalent of companies choosing to not share every detail of their workings could be considered equivalent to an individual choosing not to share personal happenings with their family or issues they face in their personal life. There are certain things that a company should reasonably be able to keep within their walls, without being discredited for not being open.

  13. A lot of this is the equivalent of standing in line for soup from the Soup Nazi. You do your best to learn and understand the “rules” — share content, retweet, compliment — in hopes of obtaining some much-hyped, tempting and, yes, tasty reward for your efforts. You’re afraid of what might happen if you break them. It will become less of an issue as the platform matures and the rules become embedded

    I tend to seek out people whose interests I share and conversations in which I feel I can contribute. Constructive criticism is a part of that contribution. It’s an essential aspect of productive dialogue and should be given and received with respect.

  14. Definitely a great question, David. I’ve wrestled with this myself recently.

    If your good friend shares something really crappy, do you help him promote/share it just because he’s your good friend? Or don’t you because you want to maintain the quality for the community?

    To be honest, I’m not sure if there’s a right answer here. I think it depends on each situation.

    That said, it takes a strong person to stand up for what they believe in and feel is right. Too many people are ready to be fake “transparent” so they fit into a new community or feel like they’re playing by the “new rules”.

    1. Tim, you present an interesting scenario with your question: “If your good friend shares something really crappy, do you help him promote/share it just because he’s your good friend? Or don’t you because you want to maintain the quality for the community?”

      My answer is that I see at least one additional option. I believe the option I see goes directly to David’s “true transparency.” At the same time, I believe this third option accomplishes both of the objectives that, as you pose them, might otherwise be at odds with each other.

      What if, in a constructive and dialogue-building way, you directly address the flaws you see in his/her idea? This way, you are offering real, fundamental and potentially breakthrough-generating help to your friend. And, by doing it in the community environment, you’re involving the richness of even more varied perspectives. PLUS, not only would this approach MAINTAIN the quality (integrity?) for (and of) the community, but perhaps, but introducing that new level of “true transparency” (which includes what I think we all fear and value: VULNERABILITY), you would actually be ADDING TO the quality of the community.

      For me (and I’m just at the beginning of finding my place and my way in the social media world), the biggest challenge in doing what I’ve suggested here is (and this echoes Adam’s comment above) finding the appropriate way to be productively critical within the constraints of the chosen medium — in particular the 140 characters of Twitter.

    2. Tim and Tim, thank you for your contribution. Both great points.

      Tim Jahn: The situational analysis is definitely key. Sometimes you’re able to constructively criticize someone in a manner that will not degrade them and others, it’s better just to let it go because the outcome, degradation, may not be worth the value gained from criticizing.

      Tim Seeberg: In a perfect world, everyone would abide by your thoughts. What you described is what I would hope we can eventually reach as a community. I think its a long ways away though, although we are getting there with the help of some very savvy thought leaders in our community.

  15. YES – YES – YES!

    I personally HATE people that cast judgement in business. And I eats me alive to know that my opinions may actually COST business because they are not aligned with the ‘popular’ views or ‘new-religion’ of the world (e.g. being green, save the planet, and ‘giving back’)…

    “Giving Back?!?!” What in the hell did I TAKE?!?!!!!!! (Answer – NOTHING! I took the risk and it paid off)

    Argh! Nothing is more frustrating than people that speak in platitudes and use platitudes as a measuring stick for conducing business!!!

    Sorry for the rant! But DAMN!

  16. I’ve found that the more I behave in the way outlined in your last full paragraph, the happier I am, and I see no reason not to extend this to the new social media. Who’m I trying to impress, anyways?

    1. Heh if you have no one to impress, here’s to ya. I’d say though, that we all have someone to impress, especially if you’re building a career. Whether or not you care about impressing them, is another thing.

  17. I’m assuming many people won’t want to touch this topic with a 10-ft pole. (And others will embrace the very platitudes you put in question in an ironic attempt at deflecting your inquisitive… “lens”, I expect.)

    Look, even I am not always 100% candid about my feelings in social situations (Twitter being one of them). There are people on Twitter I would love to tear down and make an example of, but I don’t because I feel that it would make me a bully. So I don’t. I am cordial and polite as much as possible, and agree with them when they say something honest and intelligent. But I also disagree with them (openly) when I think they’re full of crap. But with all this, there is a certain measure of restraint which perhaps sheds a veil on “true transparency.” Right?

    Truth: Twitter is a social setting like any other. We all conform to certain rules of etiquette based on what the community believes are socially acceptable parameters of behavior. Being polite is good. Picking fights is bad. So sometimes, not verbally slapping someone because they’re full of BS is the right thing to do, even though holding back flies in the face of “transparency”. Everyone has their own comfort zone with that.

    In the same vein, I don’t necessarily need to share my political and religious views with everyone. My private life is my business. Who I vote for, what I eat, where I shop, what color underwear I am wearing are details about me not necessarily intended for public consumption. So transparency has its limits. Again, it’s a question of comfort.

    All of this to say that transparency is not an absolute. Not on Twitter or anywhere. And that means that when we talk about transparency, we are talking about nuances… and that makes it a more complex conversation right off the bat.

    To your point though, a suckup is just a suckup, and there is absolutely no value in that ESPECIALLY if the sucking-up happens to be either disingenuous and/or self-serving.

    (Note: Giving someone a compliment is not the same as sucking-up.)

    When people start kissing azz for the sake of elevating their own status, then you get into the ugly underbelly of social dynamics, and sadly the Twitternets are not immune to this insipid yet universal human behavior.

    Fortunately, we all come equipped with a pretty effective bulls**t radar, so it shouldn’t be too hard to separate people with integrity from those who wouldn’t know the meaning of the term if a dictionary bit them in the ass.

    Great post. (And I actually mean it.)

    1. Excuse my excitement about this comment Olivier, as I don’t want to sound hypocritical after writing that post, but wow, you said it perfectly…just wow.

      I think the major point is “that transparency is not an absolute. Not on Twitter or anywhere.”

      That’s the key. That’s it right there. There is a level of comfort that must be found. I’ve discussed before how being transparent doesn’t mean you have to share every little detail of your life, some things aren’t meant to be shared because they are private, and you have every right to keep it that way…as you stated well in your comment.

      So in the end, are you expected to be 100% absolutely transparent? No way. There is a certain level of sincerity and honesty that is expected however, and as long as you stay above that level, you’re golden.

      Thank you very much for your thoughts. Hope you’ll stop by and weigh in more in the future.

      1. There’s a difference between transparency and honesty. You have an obligation to be honest, to avoid saying things you know not to be true and to avoiding holding yourself out as something you’re not. Transparency is situational. It depends on the conversation and your role.

        Let’s say you write a blog post critical of a particular product or service and you happen to do work for that company’s competitor. In this case you have an obligation to be both honest and transparent: honest in your assessment, drawing on your expertise and the facts as you know them, and transparent in disclosing your relationship with the competitor.

  18. David great post, thanks to Olivier for tweeting about it. 4 years ago when we (Brains On Fire) started the steps to build an online community for Fiskars Brands. Transparency was the first issue we had to tackle. Would the brand be willing to allow community conversations to be led by it’s community citizens? Thankfully they did. But as the power of social media has become more and more apparent and more brands now “what some of that stuff” at any cost, and what’s transparent for some is not transparent for others.

    I think also us (social marketers and brands) have to be patient to allow relationships to develop from brand to consumer, brand to customer, brand to fan, and finally brand to it’s best friends… that requires building trust that true honesty is respected.

  19. Perhaps the better term to describe successful participants engaged in the assorted social media channels is “authentic” instead of “transparent.”

    For many SM participants, much of the value of the SM channel is the ability to monitor other participants over time. Patterns of tweets, blog posts and wall comments tend to be revealing. Does this person have anything to contribute? Do they have original ideas? Do they simply regurgitate links? Are they friendly? Are they sarcastic? Over time these characteristics reveal themselves, making it very difficult for anyone to sustain an inauthentic identity.

    There will always be those who attempt to deceive, and when their comments reveal their true selves, and they offend, disturb or annoy, they will simply be unfollowed or blocked. Society, even online, will determine how to maintain decorum and enforce convention.

    As Oliver pointed out above, though, authenticity does not demand full disclosure. Although you may be able to discern my political leanings, entertainment preferences, religious affiliation and social status from the accumulation of my SM contributions, I have no obligation to share deeply personal details. It doesn’t mean I’m inauthentic, just discreet.

    If the most pressing concern we have about another SM participant’s authenticity is whether that individual really believes the compliments they dispense, and are truly generous and courteous in their real life then our problems are pretty insignificant.

    1. Thanks John and yes, authenticity is at the heart of this conversation. Perhaps time and society will enforce conversation, but this seems to be the case in the negative end of the inauthenticity spectrum. I don’t find the positive end of the inauthenticity spectrum to be insignificant though. It’s certainly more tolerable but perhaps that’s part of the problem. It’s a lot easier to hear compliments about yourself, to compliment others, and not think twice about it.

      If everything is said to be valuable, how do we find out whats truly valuable? If everyone vouches for yet another “social media expert” just to be generous, how will a company know whether or not this “expert” is truly worthy of such a title when hiring. It hinders the value of the recommendation, it makes the truly valuable professionals seem less valuable, and it makes it incredibly difficult to weed out the content that is really worth our time. I’d say that’s pretty significant.

  20. Great question to ask David – and one I think we will all grapple with as the medium of the social sphere pushes the boundaries. As Oliver shares – what is our personal comfort with being fully transparent to online connections? Even people who declare they are fully transparent beg the question of “really?” Or we ask do we really want to know everyone we connect with on such intimate and detailed terms?

    Reminds me of the phrase from a famous celeb: “You only know what I allow you to know.” The same might be said for our presence on social media.

    1. Thanks Jenny. To answer your question about do we really want to know everyone on such an intimate level? I think there’s certainly a natural desire to know others on a deeper level. Everyone likes to know about other’s personal lives…that’s why there’s such a big market for gossip readers. We’ve all got a little stalker in us, whether we like to admit it or not.

  21. At the risk of being contrary (although, for this post, that’s a good thing), I don’t see this as an issue of transparency. It’s a question about depth of discourse, about how to add value with a comment, about the merits of civil disagreement vs. frivolous cheerleading.

    The transparency debate is a different debate, I think.

    See, we CAN disagree…

    You’re right, though, about all of this slurping we do. What purpose does it serve? I love comments as much as anyone, but I’d rather have somebody argue against me than tell me what a great post I’ve written.

    We rush to be the first commenter. We rush to show those we follow that we’re paying attention to them. We rush to give the APPEARANCE of a conversation on our friends’ blogs, but the discourse is seldom conversational. In fact, it’s often not even a many-to-many convo, but multiple one-to-one micro convos that end quickly.

    Sometimes I find myself arguing against an idea espoused in a blog post, even if I agree with the post, just to jolt the conversation out of “lemming speak.”

    I’m tempted to say thanks for writing this post, but…well, that seems to prove your point, so…bugger off! 😉

    1. Well Scott, “a question about depth of discourse, about how to add value with a comment, about the merits of civil disagreement vs. frivolous cheerleading” would have been way too long a title. hehe

      Valid point about the main issue not being about transparency. I think it’s just my view of what the term “transparency” encompasses but you’re absolutely right about what this post is really about.

      I too like to disagree sometimes for the sake of good conversation, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t second guessed myself, and often chosen not to comment at all to avoid tampering with relationships that I consider valuable as a professional. As someone just starting off in building my career, I have a lot of people to look up to, and a lot of people that I will potentially look to for networking opportunities in the future. If I told some people how I really felt about their blog, I don’t think they’d be too keen to helping me in my career. It’s something I deal with often in which I will hopefully find a comfort zone soon.

  22. David,

    Stop Kissing My Ass.


    Kidding aside. I think you bring up some excellent, thought provoking points here. Points that like many people that have already commented I struggle with on a daily basis. I think most people navigate between two spectrums.

    At one end you have the ass kissers and at the other you have the people who say Gary V is overrated or Tim Ferris sucks just to rile people up. That’s garbage as well.

    It’s tough to follow Oliver here because he made some great headway into the fact that there’s just general etiquette we should all abide by.

    Here’s the truth on why I haven’t spent much time on Scribnia. Because I don’t want to rate some of the people I really enjoy interacting with lower than they’d deem fit for themselves. And if we’re being truly transparent it’s because I don’t want them to rate my own work less than my own value-perception I have for myself in my head. I’m not certain I’m ready for that wake up call just yet.

    So what’s a guy to do? Most days I think we just need to be as honest and appropriate as we can be, and admire the ones that are truly honest. The people that will call us on our bullshit, challenge us to improve our writing, and let us know when we’ve underwhelmed. But that too is a lot of responsibility to shoulder. Very few are ready.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading both this post and the comments section. Like some other young rockstars, it seems as though you’re becoming more equipped to extract solid insights from all the people you’re interacting with and investing time into via participation in social verticals.

    Kudos to you and this discussion!

    1. Great comment Ryan. On your Scribnia point, at risk of making the company I represent look less valuable, this is certainly an glaring issue. If you’re holding back from using Scribnia for those reasons, you might be happy to find that Scribnia users, in general, have provided a great example of what I’ve discussed in this post. Most reviews are very high ratings with very generous feedback. Perhaps it’s because usually, the people that review you are your readers and your readers are your readers because they enjoy your writing. I think as you get more reviews and bring in some outside readers, you’ll start to receive some more constructive criticism.

      Thank you for your kind words. Truly appreciated…means a lot.

  23. This is a fair question, and great food for thought, but it feels rhetorical and therefore unanswerable to some degree. Ari brings up “openness”… a small business or the self-employed consultant may have a vast myriad of options in the arena of being open, where someone working for a Fortune 500 company may not, due to legal departments, managerial watchdogs, etc. So a PERSON might have a pretty honest nature, and normally be fairly transparent with friends, family and social situations, and now find themselves handcuffed in public on Twitter or in a blog comment – they hold themselves back, as Olivier describes and become a polite or restrained version of themselves for very real and valid reasons. And then again, some people might always act like that, they aren’t comfortable crossing a certain line of disclosure and so they operate within a more confined space. Does it mean they aren’t honest or transparent??? Maybe, maybe not. It’s so subjective.

    I do think there is a real issue Tim brings up of maintaining your own reputation and quality standards, and wanting to be supportive of friends. At the end of the day, we have only ourselves and our actions to judge. Do we want a job within a certain company and so we buddy up to some employees? Do we hope a client will notice us if we speak favorably of their products? Do we want to seem as cool as we perceive others are, so we pick up their jargon, preferences and ways of doing things (maybe unaware we’re doing so?) And if we do these things, are we meeting a need within ourselves, or shamelessly sucking up and being an idiot? Who can say, but that inner voice that tells us we’re living “true to ourselves.” What is true for you might not ring true for me, so a person of integrity has to navigate these delicate waters as best as he or she can, and hope that people they interact with will have some tolerance and gracious understanding.

    I gripe a lot about automated thank you direct messages on Twitter… I hate them. But someone pointed out, the person who set that up, be it right or wrong, may have had the best intention for wanting to thank me for following them and I am judging them as if they had some nefarious intent in mind. It’s risky to judge others, especially in a world of 140 characters where context is often misplaced inside another tweet, if not lost to us totally. Because of that, I think any form of transparency is likely to have an undercurrent of being cautious underneath it. We probably wouldn’t blast hateful rhetoric at a party to someone we disagree with unless pushed, so the same is true online.

    All this to say I have no answers – I just do the best I can, and some days I say more than I wish I would have, and other days less. 🙂

    1. I can almost see your thought process there Kris and can definitely relate to your ideas. You said it well and in the end you’re right on in that there may not be any answers. We’ve found more and more in the social space that many of these issues do not have answers, but rather a situational application that only you can answer for yourself.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts…I’ll be sure to send you a DM thanking you later 😉

  24. I should never attempt to paraphrase Olivier, but I will, because he bears repeating, or at least echoing.

    Full transparency is not necessary for authenticity. It is authenticity that is required for acceptance into the community. What part of yourself you choose to share must be real (or people will see through it very quickly), but it doesn’t have to be comprehensive.

    Of course, it is also true that the most satisfying and joyful communities are the ones where the members are the most completely transparent, which is why ancient friendships and excellent marriages, to name only two, are so incredibly satisfying. Worth sacrificing almost anything for.

    I was going to get some work done today, David. Then you wrote this post. Crap.

    And well done.

  25. As someone who has never understand how some of the A-listers got to be deemed “authorities” of social media, I appreciate a post like this. Too often (and I’m sure myself and other who have commented on this post are guilty of this), we try to catch the attention of an A-lister. But, if we stop and think about it: What’s the point? If Peter Shankman replies to one of your tweets, is that going to win you a new client? Of course not. It’s a nice short-term ego boost, but nothing more.

    I assume many of the people commenting on this post use Twitter as a business communication tool, with some personal messages intertwined. For the most part, that’s how I view it. That being said, we treat Twitter like a business meeting. If you’re in a business meeting and one of the company “high ups” says something idiotic, are you going to call him out right there in front of everyone? Probably not. The same standard applies on Twitter. So, while we may shake our heads in disbelief at some of the incredulous statements made on Twitter, we probably won’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just simple business etiquette.

    The blurring lines between our personal and professional lives makes this a little more complicated, but on a whole, business etiquette wins out. That doesn’t make someone inauthentic or not transparent — just realistic … at least in my opinion.

    Heather (@prtini)

    1. I like this perspective, Heather. While it contradicts my “Be a contrarian” argument, it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves that our pendulums CAN swing too far in the other direction if we try to be argumentative for argument’s sake.

      1. Scott, I think you made an important point above. Strong communities thrive on a diversity of points of view. Genuine dialogue depends on it. But as Heather points out, a great deal of what transpires on Twitter isn’t worth challenging. It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

        1. “diversity of points of view”

          That’s exactly what I don’t see a lot of in discussions about (and around) social media. There seems to be a party line the majority follow and few ever question.

          ie: Olivier and I don’t see eye to eye on social media, but what stood out about him for me was his willingness to call out the various “gold rush” conferences that are popping up for the scams they are. I’d love to see the so-called A-listers do the same, but they can’t because they’re appearing at them!

  26. David,

    A great and thoughtful post, you’ve raised the bar on this conversation! I wrote about transparency vs. translucency a while back because I don’t think people or businesses are ever truly transparent, nor should we expect that. I also think it’s their decision (not the community’s) to determine the level of transparency.

    “…are we becoming overly kind and complimentary just to appeal/conform to the community? Has the concept of sharing and contributing to the community committed us to sharing and contributing things that are not actually worthy of such promotion?”

    Communities do this…they appeal and conform, it’s human nature. And then something happens that cracks that nice environment and it becomes hostile, people split and new communitites form. I am sure lots of folks who have been involved in online communities (before it was known as ‘social networking’) can attest to this. I’ve seen it happen several times on forums and I am starting to see it happen on Twitter. Just wish I knew more about sociology/anthropology to give it a proper name. I am such there’s a group dynamic term floating around somewhere… 😉

    One of the issues that keeps coming up is that people want “social media people” to put their money where their mouths are by showing case studies, explaining what work they are doing, etc. in the name of transparency. You know what I have to say to that? Sorry folks…but this is business. While we are a community, we are still potential competitors, right? As well, a lot of us sign NDAs and have clients following us online. Why risk professionalism just to appease the community? I am not beholden to any online community to talk about my clients or the work I do for them. Am I beholden to a potential client to prove my value and provide examples or case studies, yes! People on Twitter? Heck no! If that’s not transparent, I am fine with that.

    So David…how are we going to “adjust” the value of what is deemed valuable?

  27. Wow! I have never, ever bothered to comment after 45 others have already responded, but I couldn’t resist on this terrific discussion. And I mean that. 🙂

    I agree that there are many examples of people “placing value on things that are not actually valuable.” My favorite is when an A-lister gets dozens of comments on a post that really isn’t very good. That’s the M.O. of suck-ups, and sadly they are a part of life, regardless of the venue.

    But I also think that one of the greatest strengths of social media is also a weakness: it’s about people, connections and friendships. Have you noticed what happens when a well-liked person becomes part of a controversy? Many of their online friends fall all over themselves in a stampede to defend them. Often, they take positions that seem completely at odds with what they’ve touted previously, in the interest of defending their friend.

    Is that wrong, or admirable? To me, it’s a little of both, though blind loyalty is certainly a lost opportunity for an open discussion about controversial issues. Can’t we have conversations purely about ideas, while remaining respectful in the spirit of friendship?

    That is what I try to do, though I’m sure sometimes I take the easy road and remain silent. This post will make me more aware of my actions (or lack thereof), and what more can you ask for in a post? Thanks, David.

  28. Most of what I think has been said, but a brief point that might not have been touched on:

    I think that with how public social media is, it’s much easier to be nicer to people, even if it’s not normal nature, then to be snarky, or rude, or mean. Tone is one of the hardest things to comprehend when you can’t hear it.

    Social media can be viewed as a first impression – people tend to be on their best behavior. They don’t want to be blackballed for everyone to see.

    I use social media just to be me. Ask anyone who knows me, and that’s how I act in real life. I don’t compliment just to compliment, but I see why others might see it as necessary. They are using it for a biz foundation, and who wants to work with a meanie? Not me.

    Great post, D – the best ones are when you get a great discussion going. Bravo.

  29. You’re going to love this.

    I can already tell that my blunt approach to Twitter is going to be a hit on this venue. I bet it draws silence. Because etiquette doesn’t mean squat to me, I’m a couple of steps ahead of most of you.

    Olivier Blanchard posted a sweet comment that reads “Being polite is good. Picking fights is bad.” I agree. But right or wrong, some of us feel an obligation to the community to pick fights and kick the butts of those who need it – many of whom just want everyone to get along in blissful politeness. A couple of centuries ago, the most traditional of these would have been called “loyalists.” And indeed, getting even for disrespect must be bad because it feels oh so good.

    As I read David Spinks’ article “True Transparency” and the rapidly growing list of comments which follow it, I can’t help but notice hints of envy for trouble makers whose goal is to be the first to point out bad ideas that would have been abandoned decades ago, except that until now, no one cared to notice. As a successful, impeccably transparent special bastard who goes by “Proots” on Twitter, I encourage anyone who is permitted to take initiative, to take a deep breath and grab a robust voice. The air is fine out here on the edge of civil. Besides, playing nice blows.

    Conversation trumps oppression. Twitter and other social network tools are not only saving lives this week in Iran, but Internet transparency in healthcare here in the US promises to aid patients through better prevention, lower costs and honesty. It sure stands a better chance of benevolence than traditional obscurity and preferred provider lists.

    Conversations mean decentralization, decentralization means liberation, and Twitter is pornography for libertarians.

    As one can imagine, to publicly demand transparency from stoic good ol’ boys (male and female) who silently hide beneath layers of traditional bureaucracy, is simply the nuts – even as a spectator sport. Anyone who is allowed to be transparent enough to participate has the obligation to their community to reach in and pull reticent business leaders smooth out into the brightness of the wide open spaces. Just how bad can that be? And now, jjust how fun can that be? Please, no wagering.

    I hold myself accountable, why shouldn’t people like Kim E. Volk, CEO of Delta Dental do the same. What makes her so damn special that she can dodge accountability from a disappointed dentist who treats the clients her business cheats?

    Wow! That felt… liberating.

    D. Kellus Pruitt DDS

  30. So how do we overcome our constant need to stroke each other’s online ego? I think blog posts should have a “Like” status check mark feature (resembling Facebook) so people can feel they’ve s given props without going into an obligatory “you’re awesome, we’re awesome, keep rocking” mantra. Or maybe a separate “compliments only comments” box. I don’t know.

    I just know that when I see someone in person and give that person an encouraging smile it requires no words – just genuine human kindness that is 100% transparent. The web is handicapped in this way because I can’t tell whether you’re being fake or not. But until I can decipher this, I’ll keep giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

    Transparently yours,
    Doreen (@DoreenO)

  31. there are so many replies, i may be repeating someone, but i’ll take that risk. we present a persona no matter where or who we’re with. i think the very notion of authenticity and transparency is so complicated it’s difficult to get to the heart of it. in this case — are we being transparent with our social media relationships — i see it an iterative, or spiral experience. you first build familiarity, next credibility and rapport, and over time, if the exchange is valued by both, the ability to offer critique that is welcomed, if not invited. in “regular” life you wouldn’t expect or accept a stranger’s critique, nor would you value it. but a person who you had come to trust…

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