Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Inbound Marketing Summit (#IMS09) at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxboro, Massachusetts. It was essentially a social media conference, and I figured it would be a good way for me to immerse myself in the topic. Plus it came with lunch.

There were a number of things about the event which I really liked…

I liked how they held it at a football stadium instead of a boring hotel. I liked how they had tables – not just chairs – so you could comfortably open a computer or take notes. I liked how they limited most speakers to just 15 minutes (some to just 10).

One of the keynoters – a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk – began his talk in what I have to say, was a very unusual way. His first words were something along the lines of, “I’m going to apologize up front, because when I get excited about a topic, I tend to use a lot of profanity.”

In this regard, Gary did not disappoint. Nothing too over the top, but certainly a bit odd to hear the headliner at a business event repeatedly drop the f-bomb.

Interestingly, among the half dozen or so people from the audience who came up to the mic to ask Gary a follow-up question, two of them also used profanity. It was as if Gary had discovered a secret door, and once opened, others couldn’t help but walk through.

That’s when I realized something very important about the impact of social media. Not so much the profanity part (necessarily), but the idea that the line between who we are as business people and who we are in our personal lives is blurring.

And whether you think this kind of loosening up is a refreshing change or a sign of the apocalypse, I assure you, it’s coming.

Your Facebook “friends” consist of both business colleagues and high school buddies. Your Twitter “followers” are defined as anyone who feels like watching what you have to say (whether you like it or not). A Google search on your name is just as likely to bring up your running time in a local 5K race as it is your bio on the company web site.

Your ability to separate the business you from the personal you is going away.

That’s huge. And when the dust settles on the social media hype (just as it eventually did on the dot com hype), there are going to be some significant changes in the way business gets done.

One of these will be an expectation by your clients and customers that the disembodied voices behind the company walls come forward and reveal themselves as real, accessible, three-dimensional people. (Wow, that was kind of a good sentence, huh?)

With every passing day, there is less tolerance for company-speak, less interest in being sold to, and a rising expectation that you and your colleagues make yourselves available to the outside world for immediate and easy interaction.

Three recommendations for thriving in the new order:

  1. Find your real voice. For my money, companies (of all sizes) are too focused on branding and not focused enough on “revealing.” Crafting a perfect tagline or benefit statement is less and less important in a world where human connection is what people hunger for.

    Take a look at every brochure, every web page, every on hold message, every invoice – every point of contact your company has with the outside world – and make sure it feels authentic. Not shiny and perfect… authentic.

  1. Showcase your real people. Here’s my web site rule: No pictures of people who don’t actually work at your company. I don’t care if your staff isn’t beautiful; if I can thrive with my face on my web site, believe me, you can too. (I mean your face, you can’t use mine.)

    Likewise, if you’re concerned that your senior staff is looking a little too male and a little too pale to “make the right impression,” the solution isn’t to throw up a race- and gender-balanced stock photo on your web site. It’s to start hiring people who actually represent the groups you claim to serve.

  1. Throw open your doors. I’m still amazed at the number of people who are just plain hard to reach. They don’t return your e-mails, they don’t return your voicemails, they don’t pick up the phone. And when you do reach them, they don’t want to talk to you unless you’re ready to buy something right now.

    I think that’s insane. Every interaction you have – whether you’re sitting in your office or sitting at your kid’s basketball game – is a marketing opportunity. And the ones that come inbound (i.e., the people who seek you out) are free.

Here’s the bottom line: Social media is going to finish the job that the Internet started 15 years ago. Pretty soon, there will be no place left to hide.

Start changing the way your company speaks, looks and behaves now. Because before you know it, what’s just a hope about your organization will become an expectation.

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