Social media strategist Shannon Paul, who works with the NHL Detroit Red Wings, said many good things on a SXSW panel this Sunday, but the one thing that stuck with me most was her assertion that brands need to become more “human” in order to connect with their audiences. She wasn’t referring to personifying a brand through a human face (be it an average employee or a charismatic leader), but rather to exhibiting ‘branded’ behavior that is truly human. What does that mean? What is the most human trait of all human traits? Shannon Paul posits it’s vulnerability.
I find that idea compelling. Vulnerability encompasses anxiety, volatility, and inconsistency, and it also implies the ability to make mistakes (and admit them). Or, to encapsulate all of the above: it means having a distinct weakness. Chances are that business strategists will advise you to hide, compensate for, or mitigate this weakness (while exploiting that of others), but that kind of thinking no longer holds relevance for the social web. If you want to be a social brand, you have to be a vulnerable brand. The possibility of a “slip of the tongue” and the exposure to possible brand attacks increase exponentially when brands let their guard down on the web – but that’s valuable. No one wants to be friends with Mr. Perfect. Vulnerability makes you likable. It is the prerequisite for empathy, and if understood as an asset and not a deficit, it can flourish under the magnifying glass of social media transparency. Examples? Zappos’ decision to let every employee blog; Comcast’s having ordinary company engineers go on message boards to answer customer questions; and of course every brand that is using Twitter for what it is best suited for – ostentatiously public personal conversations. Remember: Personality – brand personality – comes from being personal.
Is your brand vulnerable? Does it have a distinct weakness, an Achilles' heel? Take it and turn into an asset by making everyone aware of it. Expose yourself and you will get exposure. On the web as in real life your most recognized weakness is your biggest strength.