White lies and social networks – a perfect match!

February 18, 2011
Cheeky Child - Chris P.
Children are adorable liars

Just caught the promo for Life At Five, a documentary about human development by the age of five.

One of the outstanding findings of the various “experiments” was that almost all children by age five have learned to lie.

This was demonstrated by putting children in a room with an object, asking them to sit facing away from it and promising not to look at it. The children were left in the room and secretly filmed. They inevitably looked at the object. When asked later if they kept their promise, all said yes.

The finding? This is a sign of healthy development. If we cannot conjure white lies we cannot function optimally in society.

What does this mean for our work in social networking and social media?

For one, I think it reminds us that the naive mantra of total transparency is miguided and dangerous.

If you are using social networks for your business, I don’t care about what you are eating right now, unless it is amazing, relevant or surprising. I don’t care if you are feeling down today. Suck it up and share something constructive, helpful or entertaining. As a matter of fact, this is probably a good rule for personal online utterances.

While this might seem like a harsh position to take, it does have its roots back in my early days in radio. We were taught not to bellyache about feeling low on days when we were off colour and I believe that was sound advice. After all, the world does not need mopey radio announcers or facebook friends. Our challenge was not to blatantly lie but to find things to be positive about.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to share your true feelings with people close to you and to confide in others when you are low. My argument is that we don’t you airing your dirty laundry in our social spaces.

What children at five teach us is that little white lies help the world go around because they allow us to choose the right moments for pleasing or disappointing others. The important part of this skill is that it shows an awareness of the AUDIENCE. Something that all business people should be acutely aware of.

So what is a good rule of thumb to guide us, particularly business people, when sending our comments out into the public domain? I think we need to view it as performance, just like the performance when meeting with a client or dealing with customers. It is not about being fake but about meeting expectations, reading the play, and guiding the interaction to a desired destination.

So while REM reminds us that Everybody Hurts, the soundest advice to guide your business blogging and social networking might be the ELO classic, Don’t Bring Me Down!