Three embarrassing things about me: I recently discovered I’ve been using the word nonplussed wrong my whole life; I listen to Journey without an ounce of irony; and once, in San Francisco, I needed help to figure out how to turn on the sink in a women’s restroom.
Whew, that felt good. And if my calculations are correct, you might just feel a bit of a connection with me now, even if you don’t know me.
When harnessed correctly, vulnerability can become a surprising social media strength.
The Pros & Cons of Vulnerability
Lots of CEOs and C-suite executives are still afraid of social media specifically because of vulnerability. They don’t want to face the conversations they might hear, or they worry that someone will say something that could hurt the company or cause the company to lose control of its image.
These fears are easy to understand. After all, who among us hasn’t hidden a weird quirk, unpopular opinion or nerdy hobby from others at some time in our lives to fit in, not rock the boat, or make friends more easily.
But the thing about this whitewashing of the self is that it never works. Only when we drop the perfectionist pretense and revel in what makes us weird do we know whether we’ve really connected with someone. And only when brands drop the focus-group-approved messaging and get vulnerable do they make a connection with their audience.
The good news is that vulnerability is having a moment. Consider:
- Reddit showcasing President of the United States Barack Obama, typos and all, in an “Ask Me Anything” session
- Lady Gaga dropping the costumes and showing us herself laid bare (link potentially NSFW) in response to tabloid snark about her recent weight gain
- A social-media-newbie CEO tweeting candidly enough that his account got its own New York Times profile
Each of these examples resonates because of one special attribute: vulnerability. We hear unfiltered thoughts straight from the president. We are invited into the inner sanctum of a pop star at her most naked. We get to put a real, endearing face with a monolithic city service.
Vulnerability creates a bond that’s hard to build any other way. And for brands in particular, it can break down the impersonal wall that surrounds most corporate communications, replacing it with something warmer and more real. But how can a brand harness this surefire connector without coming off as pandering, overshare-prone or worse? Here are a few tips.
Ask The Hard Questions
First, be honest with yourself and your company to probe for vulnerable and share-worthy points. What’s the toughest challenge you’ve overcome? What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and learned from? What questions are people always asking about your brand that you’ve shied away from in the past, and how can you honestly address them, at least in part?
Go Back In Time
When we’re talking honesty, clarity and vulnerability, sometimes it’s easier to look back on the past than scrutinize the present. Even Fortune 500 companies were small, scrappy upstarts at one point, right? And small and scrappy are just the kind of heros we like to root for. If you’re a big, established company, remember what it felt like to be not-so-big or established. Create content from that place.
Find Your Brand’s Stories
Real stories tap into real emotions. They make us feel something. Create a work and social media environment in which people feel comfortable telling their stories, and train yourself and your staff to be always on the lookout for stories that spark something. Then capitalize on them – they’re marketing gold.
Pick Your Moments
Vulnerability works best as a trickle, not a flood. We’re looking for a glimpse into your world, not a tweet-a-minute tour of minutiae. Be real and be honest, but remember less is more.
Social media’s off-the-cuff nature makes it look easy to whip off perfect, breezy quips – but make sure they’re not at someone else’s expense. When we feel attacked or criticized on social media, vulnerability can quickly morph into defensiveness and anger, and that’s the opposite of what we’re after.
Sleep On It
There’s no need to post every thought right away – a filter is a good thing. If you’ve got a concept in mind that you think might resonate but you feel anxious about putting it out there, give yourself time to think it over, or bounce it off someone else. The beauty of social media is that it’s always ready when you are.
Lose Control (A Little)
The bottom line is that we’re all in social media to build relationships and connect with people, and you can’t put yourself out there without feeling a little anxious. Losing control is a scary feeling, but it can also be a sign that you’re doing it right.
Ready to practice some vulnerability? Share something embarrassing about yourself in the comments so I won’t be all alone, and then tell me what you think about brands and vulnerability.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.