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Honesty, trust and social media attitudes
2010-02-17: I've learned a lot from Big Brother. One consistent thread throughout the whole programme has been that people insist on others being honest and straightforward.
I've not noticed it quite so much recently, but there was certainly a time when the best thing to do, always, was to say it how it is, to speak ones mind. Your truth was the truth, and to keep it quiet was to be dishonest. As I've said before, I'm with Germaine Greer on this that actually it's often nicer to be polite, but that's my generation, and I'm talking about the generations younger than me.
In Tower Block of Commons, a programme that places MPs into council tower blocks for a week to see how they cope with life there, Tory MP Nadine Dorries off camera whips £50 out of her bra "for the kids", leading to on-camera uproar from the mum "when things get tough, I can't just whip fifty quid out of me bra". The problem was, Dorries wasn't really playing the game. And the mum couldn't feel honest unless she outed Dorries on camera.
Honesty is the basic currency of modern dealings.
We don't trust our politicians. I can remember my grandad having that attitude, but it has to be worse now. We don't trust sales people, of course. We don't even trust our doctor .. there are postcode lotteries for treatment and bad surgeons and good ones. We can't trust TV phone-ins. Corporate influence is strong in science so it's increasingly difficult to trust that. You can't trust the Internet. And, oh yes, we can't trust banks either.
I didn't manage to crack the forums when I was working on hair loss. I'd satisfied myself that my client was honest and true. It was probably the top UK hair loss clinic. They used only treatments that worked, no hocus pocus. So I tried a few times to bring that to forums. It felt dishonest to hide my allegiance, but if ever I let it out, I was marked for spam almost every time. I do worry about that. Who knows most about hair loss? Those clinics who treat hair loss every day. If you can't say what works in a forum, that leaves forums to the alternative and heebeegeebee people and people suffering hair loss can spend years trying different rip-off remedies before finding the mainstream treatments that actually work.
Sometimes it seems the only people we can trust are the handful of time-served people closest to us: if we're lucky, our family, and our closest friends.
So what do you think the reaction will be if you weigh into a social media platform like Facebook, friend people, and start selling?
Sales is kryptonite in social media.
For many, money carries quite extreme values. The band I was in once gave a £50 music shop voucher as a thank-you to a student who spent his day mixing our tracks in the college studio. Our relationship was destroyed from that moment. Even though we knew he needed the money, it was poison to him. We'd reduced his gift to us to a financial transaction as if we were employing him to work for us.
So how do you 'do' social media?
Basically you be a genuine friend to people. Use what you have for common good. How do you feel when a famous artist does a concert, for free, for some charity cause? Right .. "guys, if you really care don't do the concert, just pay some of your huge wealth over directly, and don't bother telling us about it .. because if you do, you only did it for the publicity (ie. you did it for profit, meaning you were thinking of your wallet rather than the cause when you decided to do it)."
If you're a plumber, and your friend's boiler packs up, what would you do? Pop round, diagnose, and offer to fix at a genuinely good price and quickly. But you'd only offer if you saw a clear need or you were asked. And you'd be very, very careful about fairness. People don't want charity.
One of the Internet marketing gurus talks about "moving the free line". He means, online people expect to be able to get stuff for free, and the more you give away, the better you appear. By giving things away, you create a fairness imbalance in the receiver who feels obliged at some point to repay the favour. Moving the free line is about finding more things to give away. Here's an example of an often used strategy in software, giving away the basic version of the software and charging for extra features.
You might like the fact that this means you can be successful online without 'selling'. No-one wants to be like Reg Holdsworth selling double glazing.
Interestingly, though, and uncomfortable though it may be, we can probably forgive Davina for her Garnier ads because it's consistent with her brand and she is clearly 'acting' in an ad .. we don't seriously believe that's what she's like in real life, so we play along, like panto.
But basically the strategy is to help people. "Is there anything I can do to help". So, in the spirit of that .. is there anything I can do to help you? I'm up for it, just get in touch.

By John Allsopp
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