Social Media: Where Vulnerability Is Strength

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:

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.

Resist Snark

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.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing Column


About The Author: is a content crafter at Buffer. She has been an editor and writer at publications including Allure, Time Out New York, Playboy and The Tennessean. She speaks frequently on social media marketing and community management topics.

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  • @steveplunkett

    two words.. insect pr0n

  • Courtney Seiter

    Steve, you’re supposed to share *your* embarrassing things, not tell more embarrassing things about me and my public speaking secrets! ;)

  • Jeremy

    But can an employer refuse to hire you because you talked about something on a social media site? I was looking at explicit ‘art’ once and clicked ‘like’ and later found it on my fb timeline. I eventually found a way to remove it.

  • Courtney Seiter

    Jeremy, that’s a fair point. I think of working in social media similar to being a celebrity (minus, like, every possible perk) in that you have to be aware anything you say or do is more or less in the public eye. Actually, that’s true for anyone who even USES social media.

  • inSparq

    It’s good that branding is embracing vulnerability. The key thing brands have to remember is that people/potential customers want to interact with humans. Vulnerability humanizes brands. And it can be endearing for the average person. Sure, there are fears, but those are the same fears any person would have. No one can be perfect. Brands shouldn’t be expected to either.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think many companies are afraid of letting go and losing control on social media because they don’t like putting their brand in the hands of their customers. But people want to do business with other people, not nameless companies. Sharing a little vulnerability goes a long way in building real relationships.

  • Courtney Seiter

    Exactly. Vulnerability plus customer empathy is a winning social media formula.

  • Courtney Seiter

    Absolutely. It’s definitely a little scary, particularly for “old guard” businesses. But with what you give up, you gain so much more.

  • Alex Harford

    Embarrassing? When I was moving out of an old office recently I badly cut my thumb on a sellotape dispenser. Moving into the new office a few days later, there was even more blood when I cut my finger on a PC. They were the finger and thumb I use for writing and tying shoelaces, so both were difficult for a day or two…

    I am quite a cynical person, but to me too many brands seem like they’re trying too hard or come across as fake when they’re intending to look more human. That’s more likely to turn me off them than want to interact or make a purchase with them. They’re a business and are around to make money so there’s no harm in being honest about that. For the brands who genuinely care about their customers it comes across much more naturally. I think I’d respect a company (whatever their size) for revealing their failings and how they could have done things better, or how they will do things better in the future – as well as showing vulnerability they’d be giving out decent advice.

  • Alex Harford

    Edit: sorry – duplicate post.

  • Courtney Seiter

    Ouch, Alex! I totally agree that it can get stilted and not-so-genuine when brands try to turn on their “hey, we’re just like you” voice. That’s why I think understanding empathy and vulnerability is important. Rather than just tell practitioners to be human and personable, it’s helpful to think about what that MEANS for a brand.


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