Total Transparency Is Overhyped

The whole issues of transparency in social media, networks and the like is driving me crazy. People keep blogging about being transparent and open but I think you have to keep it in context.

There have been some good blogs about this – for example, Penelope Trunk once blogged about her twenty-something business partner and the fact that he had personal photos of himself partying on his Facebook page. She talked about the age difference and how his generation is just “like that” and us Gen Xers need to lighten up. But uh, here’s the thing, some people – I would guess younger folks – have a lot less to lose. Perhaps he is just starting his career and doesn’t realize the impact total openness could have on it. Perhaps he doesn’t have a family to support or a mortgage to pay. If he loses a job for something he did or said on the Internet, he can probably get another one pretty easily without a lot of personal strife.

Transparency does not mean let it all hang out. It means to be honest and straight forward – as much as it makes sense. Don’t set up a flog or post comments under the guise of being someone else. Don’t establish a presence on social networks, communities or blogs and post comments or act like you are simply a loyal customer of some company when you actually work for them. Being transparent means being honest and open in this manner – identify yourself as an employee, or a client as a client, before posting comments – not showcasing your Friday night forays for all the world to see.

The Forbes Top 25 Web Celeb list yesterday also reminded me of this. My favorite “celeb” highlighted was someone I’d never heard of – Heather B. Armstrong. Besides being an amazingly honest, open and engaging writer, she talks about how she was fired in 2001 for blogging about people at her job. For her, total transparency meant unemployment. And even though – now – the road she was forced down as a result has paid off, it’s a one-in-a-million shot for the same outcome for most bloggers. (Despite that we’ve all come a long way since 2001…and she talks about how she had to learn her lesson on “boundaries” of transparency after hurting her family with early blog posts.)

She’s lucky – because now that she makes a living as a blogger, she can be totally transparent. And she is – and it works brilliantly. But for the rest of us – who still have to answer to clients or employees or employers – the total transparency of our opinions, thought and actions is something I question – and again say “all in context.”

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