How “Human” Should You Be?

serious-businessPeople might not like who you are or what you have to say. Sometimes customers can be over-sensitive about certain comments because lets face it, the traditional professional community isn’t exactly “laid back”.  In social media, it is expected that we show our “true” form, and be honest to who you are, or transparent as we like to call it…but what if an honest statement is offensive to a customer?

Last night I had a great twittersation (yea, I said it.) with Tara Hunt (@missrogue) after reading this story about James Andrews,  VP of Ketchum, making a negative comment about Memphis on twitter that offended some people at FedEx.

The Question:

With social media still not close to universally understood and accepted by businesses:

Is it the responsibility of the businesses / people who haven’t embraced being human in communications to “take the leap or get left in the dust” and become more “human”?


Is it the responsibility of those businesses / people, who understand the importance of being human in social media, to censor some things that may not sit well with a business world that only gradually begins to understand social media and how it’s effecting the way we communicate?

The Arguments

You will inevitably offend people once in a while, no matter how careful you are.  Some people are just more sensitive to certain subjects.  What if you can avoid it?  You need to think about what you’re writing and how your customers may view it.  If you know you’re customers will get offended by what you’re about to say, unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t say it!  No point in losing a good customer for something so petty.

On the other hand, the business community used to be uptight and all about creating an image for the public to see.  Now the business community isn’t about creating an image but rather being true to your actual image, or personality.  Companies need to learn how to lighten up and be “human” in their conversations.  Don’t get offended by someone’s opinion if it isn’t clearly and directly meant to offend you.  People have different views and opinions and they need to learn how to accept that. “Embrace differences. Make mistakes. Get dirty. Have fun.” as @missrogue described how she advises her customers.

My Thoughts

There really is no right or wrong answer as different situations and people will warrant different approaches to this issue.  I love the advice to Embrace differences. Make mistakes. Get dirty. Have fun.” as that is what being human is all about. Choose your battles wisely however, as it is something that is new and unfamiliar to the traditional business world. The sooner they start to understand it, the better, as being “human” is quickly becoming more and more acceptable and they could be left behind in the dust.  They’re not left behind yet though. We have to realize that when communicating with them.

It’s important that those who have embraced transparency encourage those who haven’t.  It is not something that they can just leap into without understanding however, or they could end up getting too “dirty” or making too big a mistake.  Gradually, we can help them get there by helping them to understand it first.

I’m sure many of you will disagree with my recommendation.  I welcome your thoughts…

How Transparent Should You Be?

Photo cred: Yohann Aberkane
Photo cred: Yohann Aberkane

Sonny Gill provides an insightful view on the matter of transparency in social media here.  He asks:

Do we need to be wary of what we post for sake that one of our hundreds or thousands of followers may find [it] disconcerting? We’re doing a disservice to our industry when we monitor and think twice about what we say and to whom, because of that fear, and not hold true to the core beliefs we ‘grew up’ on with Social Media…Is it getting to the point where transparency is becoming a bit too, um, transparent?

This is a great debate and possibly one that doesn’t have a definitive answer.  There are different situations that require different levels of transparency to be considered.  The main two situations to consider are whether you are  participating in social media to represent yourself or to represent a company.

If you are representing yourself, it is much easier to determine how transparent you can reasonably be.  If you’re trying to establish yourself as a branded professional however, then you should approach transparency the same way a company would.  You know what you’re willing to say and to what extent you are willing to express opinions that people may find to be offensive, and effect their connection with you.

I understand what many people say in that you can’t claim to be entirely transparent if you’re not completely open with your readers. I ask, is transparency expressing your views on who should be the U.S. president or your position on obesity in America? Or is transparency being honest and sincere in your communications with others, even if you have to respectfully deny someone a response on a touchy subject.  I would argue the latter.

It’s unreasonable to expect the same from a corporate blog or a CEO using twitter that you would expect from an individual.  Many things such as politics and other very segmented areas of interest can really offend people if you’re not careful.  A company should not have to lose business because their customers disagree with their personal views on matters that are not relevant to their line of business.  If it does relate directly to your line of business, then you must express your views respectfully and with justification.  If you are honest, and provide valid points, your customers will respect you that much more.

Michael Gray provides some good advice on this matter here.

He says, “Twitter is a social medium and occasionally the people you follow will have conversations about sensitive topics such as politics, religion, relationships, or who was the best Star Trek Captain. Unless it’s part of your organizations mission statement and goal (ie someone like Cato Institute or PETA ), it’s best to remain out of the debate.

I guess its a matter of your own interpretation of what transparent means, and how open one must be to be considered transparent.  In my interpretation, to be considered transparent in social media translates more to being honest with your community about situations relevant to you or your company, while being true to your personality, than providing your opinion on matters that will only hurt your connection with your community.

What’s your interpretation of transparency in social media?  How transparent are you?