In my experience, it's just the opposite. It's a magnifying glass and megaphone putting me out there for discovery and exploration. Our profiles are a window into our lives, or at least a carefully curated version of our lives. We have reversed the peepholes on our apartment doors and invited the world to see us in our natural habitat.
It's an idea one of my associates labeled "reverse voyeurism" and betting on it is the closest thing to a guarantee of social media success that I know. Here's a pass at trying to translate this observation into some actionable social media opportunities.
Facebook starts with a face
Reverse voyeurism is a sibling of vanity and a cousin of exhibitionism. The very idea of a "face book" starts with a photo, matching just another face in the crowd with a real identity. If social networking were only about vanity and exhibitionism, then this match would be the end of the story.
Real, honest-to-goodness social networking at its core is about the subtle invitation for my friends to get to know me better. Like a well-poured drink, it's also a powerful social lubricant. Would I ever have been so presumptive as to place 40th birthday photos in an envelope to send to 200 of my closest friends? Not likely. Yet with click of a few buttons on my iPhone and the through the magic that is my news feed, it's almost like you were invited to my birthday bash (no need to send a gift, I understand).
Yup, something deep in my DNA wants all my friends and family, extended or close, to know I turned 40, had great weekend, drank too much, and don't look a day over 39. Facebook is the number one photo site in the world not because it's a better photo utility than companies dedicated to that pursuit, but because it makes it more OK to share photos. The context is casual. "Hey everyone, check these out ... or not, whatever."
Obvious marketing observation #1: Incorporate photos into your social media strategy. Nothing captures and extends the lifespan of a moment in time like a simple digital image. Be the company that extends live experiences with your brand to the social web.
Enough about me, what do you think of me?
Speaking of sharing little gems about me, the results of the last few Quizzes I've taken reveal I am; a "Toyota" (What car-type are you), an Outdoor Enthusiast (How Outdoorsy Are you?) and Soft (Hard or Soft? Mike's Hard Lemonade). Honestly, it has baffled me for a long time why my friends, sophisticated and educated people, kept taking these personality quizzes.
It wasn't until I started considering the effects of reverse voyeurism that the answer came to me. We don't do it to learn more about ourselves; I already know I am outdoorsy (I dispute the "soft" result). We do it to provide one more puzzle piece to our friends. Hoping they continue to be interested in piecing together the 1,000-piece jigsaw that is me.
Oversimplified social strategy #2: Be the brand that asks me about me, but not so you can sell me more stuff. Do it so I can help my friends know me better. You'll get to know me better in the process, and eventually will sell me more stuff, I promise.
I'm a fan
I've already over-shared about my personal life so why not a few more nuggets. I'm a "fan" of Sam Adams, The New England Patriots, and Apple on Facebook. My company has no affiliation with these Public Profiles (Pages); I simply have passion for these things. I'm also a Fan of Walgreens, T.G.I. Fridays, and Sears. Again no affiliation, but my Fan motivations were slightly different. Each of these brands offered me an incentive to become their Fan.
The quid pro quo was to broadcast my fandom in exchange for the promise of a free photo book, a burger and $10 off my next purchase respectively. I'm not a big fan of any of these brands, but I assure you I wouldn't shout from the rooftops for a brand that was at odds with the persona I've worked hard to create for myself in Facebook.
Blogosphere blowhards will cry foul, but I'll bet they've never been in the trenches of loyalty marketing or witnessed the amazing ROI of points, offers and deals. I happen to believe a token of appreciation for knowingly (and with full disclosure) helping to promote a brand is an honest and transparent social contract between brands and would be fans.
Duhh, Social Media Observation #3: I am what I'm a fan of. Give me a reason to add your brand to the mosaic that is me. Respect and recognize my permission to market to and through me. And how about a little something, you know, for the effort?
Ready, set, reverse your voyeursim
So is your brand ready to practice reverse voyeurism? As tentative as we all were putting our personal lives in that window, it's understandable the hesitation of many brands. Remember however that full transparency is a myth in person as it is in business. We still curate, put our best features forward, select the tidbits that we broadcast about ourselves. Dunder Mifflin has full and highly awkward transparency in the imaginary documentary they've presumably approved. Would you buy paper from them? Right.
Don't get all hung up on your own brand's transparency; you're not that interesting. Instead, keep asking how you're helping real humans be more transparent to other real humans who are their friends. When you turn the peephole around, I think you'll feel much less creepy, more like an invited guest and maybe even a friend.