To Leaders Afraid of Twitter

What would you say to the Leader who says “we just shouldn’t be that transparent” or “being transparent in the marketplace will ruin our competitive advantage”?

Pam Fox Rollin asked me that question in our recent podcast.

Besides “that’s bullshit”, I thought? Alas, I did not let my inside voice become my outside voice, but I really do think some leaders are missing the point in this highly networked world.

Two things I believe to be true for this era.

First, if you don’t engage on social media (twitter, FaceBook, whatever) in an authentic way, consumers won’t trust you in the long run and you can’t effectively engage them in the short-term.

A case in point: A GM I was recently working with pulled me aside to ask how they could rebuild their market category leadership position. You see, for the longest time, they had a product that pretty much sucked and they had just finished the herculean task of fixing the problems and being a relevant product leader again. And she wanted to know some ideas for how to do tell the market that. But when I asked her, “did you ever tell the market (you knew) the product sucked,” she was astonished at the question.

She mumbled something about not wanting to look weak, not wanting to give her competitors something to use against her, etc. And she refused to admit that her company hadn’t gotten it right (for years, mind you!) in the past. While I know a message like this would need to be “messaged well*”, the reality is the customers already knew they sucked. The competitors had already used that information and it was already “out there”. And as long as this company didn’t claim it as their own truth, they couldn’t go forward to get the credit for the upside.

It reminds me of that quote by Virginia Woolf “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” In this case, the customers needed their information or truth to be validated (it did suck) so they could move forward (you fixed it). As long as the company denied the past, they were never on the same page with their consumer and thus not in the experience together. The conversation about our products, our companies and even our own leadership is happening with or without us engaging. I recommend we turn into it rather than away from it.

The second thing is that information is no longer the source of competitive advantage. There was actually a time even 10 years ago where a true source of competitive advantage was information and our ability to draw keen insights out from data. Today, really high quality data is incredibly prevalent and information is available as easily as Hoovers, Google and so on. It is my view from working with some really amazing companies that the competitive advantage source went from having information/insights to ability to acton those information and insights. Think back to your own experiences of the last time you felt like if you locked up information and held it back from the market, would that have changed things? On the other hand, what does matter… how you decide on what you’ll do, or what you’ll build or what you’ll make happen in the marketplace. Those things do need to be company confidential because that is central to your strategy and you don’t want to give away that hand too fast. That’s the thing. Posting information about market moves or what you think is going on….just tells everyone on your team what you are thinking about, processing on, and what matters. It is a way for your team to stay more aligned to you, and more ready to jump into the pool because they know more of what you are considering.

So, bottom line, I think it’s about what you share and using some discretion, but don’t be afraid of being transparent in the marketplace. That belonged to a different era. In the coming era, we gotta move faster, and more in alignment. We gotta have more people thinking together and able to lead all over the company, not just at the top. Let’s enable that to happen and get over ourselves for the old school stuff that no longer matters.

*I think how a message is crafted can make a difference in how it’s received. Rather than wear a hair chest, they could simply have acknowledged the thing in a funny and true way and asked customers to help them measure the difference or whatever. They could have actually made this a great competitive conversion program to bring back the customers who had deserted them. By saying messaged well, I’m not saying highly packaged but considered in terms of tone and approach.

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