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Don’t Be Transparent, Be Authentic Instead

Some people tend to tweet, blog, post, and status-update their little hearts out. Be it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, their own blog, or whatever. They say it's all about transparency, and transparency is good.

But I think we need to be careful.

While we may be opening ourselves up for the world to see, we may be opening ourselves up a world of trouble, too.

Transparency may seem like the latest fashion. But it can also become dangerous on many levels. Some dangers are obvious, like being robbed after publicizing you were out. Others, not as much, like being reprimanded for saying something you shouldn't have said, or even being fired for insulting your customers.

My contention is, too much transparency can hurt you in many ways.

I agree that social media is great for developing and nurturing relationships. That's what the word “social” in social media means. Or what it should mean, anyway.

But as with all relationships, even when continuous, open communication is an important component, there should be a little mystique to keep the flame alive. A little room to allow for exploration and discovery over a period of time instead of all at once.

In today's open, Web 2.0 world, privacy is more crucial than ever before. Why? Because transparent or not, everything you say online is permanent, can be found, and can be easily misinterpreted. Especially when taken out of context.

For example, I love Twitter's 140-character limitations.

But when a tweet is published as part of a succession of related tweets, or when posted as a response to another or as part of an ongoing conversation, a general search will turn up an incomplete message that may be misleading and counterproductive.

The key is to know what to keep private and what to reveal. And whatever you do reveal, to think strategically so that what you say is properly said. In short, it's knowing what to say and how to say it. To reveal the right things, in the right way.

(Sounds a lot like copywriting, doesn't it?)

Do you need to tweet or blog about your failures? Sometimes. But not all of them, and not all the time, either. Same thing with your successes. You don't want to give away the store — much less give away any ammunition that can be used against you.

Saying more than what you need to say makes you both vulnerable and open to criticism, and may also communicate the wrong message to your audience.

Remember, there's a difference between authenticity and transparency. Being too transparent is not a good thing. Sure, go ahead and project trustworthiness, authority, and a willingness to share. Be candid and forthright. Be genuine and direct.

But remember, scammers and competitors are watching you, too.

Moreover, don't forget your clients, prospects, partners, and affiliates. If you're too open, you may be communicating you won't value their privacy, you can't keep secrets, and you're opening yourself up to abuse — I call this an unconscious paralleled assumption.

Aaron Wall said it best: “Appearing transparent is profitable, being transparent is not.”

In other words, there's a difference between being perceived as open and being open. Between communicating a sense of transparency and actually being transparent. Between being authentic and authoritative, and being defensive and self-absorbed.

Authenticity is saying things right. Authority is saying the right things. But transparency is saying everything. And it's wrong. You don't need to say everything to be transparent, and you don't need to be transparent to be authentic and authoritative.

Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

But don't say everything or else what you say will mean nothing.

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Strategic marketing consultant Michel Fortin