The Business Case for Social Media Mystery

Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. I doubt he would be on Twitter. Or would he, baby?

Even if you were not caught up in the Royal Wedding frenzy, if you were a breathing human being you couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of the event this week.

In a world of connection, transparency, ubiquitous communication, and an emphasis on being “humanized,” isn’t it interesting that at least for a week, the world’s biggest brand was characterized by being aloof, detached, and elite? This struck me as I watched a demonstration on the various nuances of the royal curtsy.

I think there is something to be said for mystery.   Apple falls into this regal category too, don’t they? No social media presence, an operation cloaked in secrecy, dominated by a black-clad leader who is not exactly an open book.  Seems to work for them.

For many premium products, a social connection might even work against the brand.  I would probably fall over if I walked into a Maserati showroom and saw “follow me on Twitter” pasted to the car.

I am probably the anti-mystery man. The other day, somebody said to me “You seem to be everywhere.”

This is not an intentional, proactive strategy on my part, but when somebody asks me for an interview or a blog contribution, my attitude is “what the heck?” And I have been doing a lot of interviews! So maybe I am on the brink of over-exposure and a back-lash?

At the end of the day, it gets back to strategy doesn’t it? It would be very uncomfortable for me to switch direction and be inaccessible, elitist, and aloof. It’s inconsistent with my personality, and by extension, my brand. I’m helpful. I’m accessible. That’s the way I was before the social web and the way I will be after the social web.

But there is a place for scarcity and mystery, isn’t there?   I wonder … is having an air of mystery and participation in the social web mutually exclusive? What do you think? Are there any exclusive or “mysterious brands” that work on the web? What about you and your brand? Do you even think about this subject of exposure?

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  • Such an interesting thought!

    Perhaps the problem is that in the social media world, you’re not looked at as being mysterious or pleasantly aloof if you aren’t on Twitter. You’re called things like, “behind the times,” “Dumb,” or, woe unto you, “traditional.”

    Maybe companies could benefit by being a little more mysterious. Yes, we know that they are being talked about, yada yada yada. So maybe you go to the grey zone. One blog post a month. Imagine if Steve Jobs did one blog a month. How crazy would that post be every month?

    If he uses that idea, I want to get paid. Just sayin…:)

  • Scarcity and mystery are two different things. One (scarcity) may create value if the scarce object is desirable. The other (mystery) may cause cognitive and brain chemical responses, if such mystery is similar to curiosity. Several studies show that curiosity is addictive. Also, JJ Abrams’ TED Talk on the “mystery box” gives you real insight into how he creates value in communications. See how he markets his movies, for example.

  • We as marketing and social media professionals really cannot afford to be considered “aloof” lest someone confuse it with uncaring. The big challenge in writing for business is being personable without giving away everything. I tell much more about myself in my personal blog, but that is my choice.

    Now for the awful confession – mystery is sexy.There is that thinking out there that says things that are scarce must be good. I imagine that Cartier or Tiffany is probably not on Twitter. It might not work so well for them.

    Love the Austin Powers pic too Mark!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Wow. That is an interesting thought!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    That is absolutely fascinating. I learned somethign from you today Paul. Wonderful comment. Thanks!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You always surprise me with new perspectives. You are an angular thinker. : )

    So the implication is the less mysterious i am, the less sexy I am. Geez. It’s always something.

    Thanks Nancy!

  • That was 13 question marks in a 350 word post. Not counting the picture caption. Was that on purpose or you were simply in a questiony mood? 🙂

    Oh, and btw…I dont think there is such a thing as over exposure in social media. Or is there? (hehe..see what I did there? I pulled a Mark lol)

  • I was trying to be mysterious dammit. Don’t ruin my mojo.

  • Ok, Mr. Mystery Man. I have a challenge for your. If you choose to rise to it, your task is to write a post around the following headline.

    Mr. Mojo Rising

    The gauntlet is thrown. Do you dare pick it up? 🙂

  • I am soooo glad that the royal wedding is over! Finally my Twitter stream will return to normal. Look, I am all for love and happiness, but c’mon now, this much hype is ridiculous.

    So they are spending more than 95% of the population will ever make in their whole lives in one day….. & that makes me care for what reason….?

    I purposely ignored all of the hype and really felt sorry for all of the “deer caught in the headlights” people that the mainstream media helped create.

    Please, whatever you do, don’t switch gears and become all elitist on us. Your blog features some of the best social media and marketing advice online.

  • Pingback: The Business Case for Social Media Mystery | Media Point - O Ponto de Encontro de todos os interessados nos Media!()

  • Mark, you raise a very good question, er…set of questions here (15 if I go with Dino’s count). Is being mysterious being aloof? I would say no. I’ll use you as an example. You are quite accessible, all over the place, and ‘present’. Do I know everything about you and your personal life? No. Should I? No. That’s the sort of over exposure that can turn people off, rather than bring them further in. You’ve struck a nice balance of letting us know pieces about your personal life and family, without giving away too much. It’s nice to have a balance and a boundary between our personal and our private lives. You’ve managed to give us all a very personable brand, without getting too ‘personal’. Does that make sense?

    Using the Royals as an example, they’ve given us LOTS of insight, without going into truly private details. We ‘feel’ like we’re getting a lot of details, but in reality, we’re getting exactly what they want us to have and the brand they want to sell. I loved every minute of it, by the way, but I think that’s been more of a female perspective than a male perspective.

    We’re all voyeurs on some level, which feeds the Twitter and Facebook growth to some degree. We all like to see what’s happening and what’s going on in people’s lives. Putting our businesses on those platforms only enhances that. We’re giving people insight into the inner workings. However, I know instantly when someone has shared ‘too much’ with us online. It stops me cold and I think , wow that may have gone too far.

  • Anonymous

    Erica, I’m so with you on the idea of (to use a Wizard of Oz analogy), “something behind the curtain”. And having a boundary between our personal and professional lives is something I strive for. And I agree: I think Mark has a winning formula.

    There’s no question that we’ve been fed exactly what the Royals wanted us to see in this latest “guilty pleasure” of the Royal wedding. And yes, I know the wrath that will descend upon me for having expressed my delight in watching all the pomp and ceremony…bring it on guys. But the brand they put out to the world is the brand they want us to see: something we are really all doing.

    A little mystery, a little behind-the-curtain…that’s the spice of life! I’m with you 100% on the TMI, Erica, when it comes to online…or off for that matter. Cheers! Kaarina

  • I enjoyed the wedding too,, but I mostly missed the hype and just enjoyed the show.

    I couldn’t be mysterious if my life depended on it. What you see is what you get, and I’m happy with that. Having said that, I would like to pique curiosity in people; you know, give hints of something I’m planning and build the anticipation.

    Sadly, I don’think I’ll be any good at that either!

  • I’ll write it down, but it’s not singing to me. : )

  • Thanks for the nice compliment Chris. I don’t feel too bad for the British and their expensive wedding. I’m sure it was a tax and revenue windfall for the government. Big weddings = smart business some times! : )

  • Yeah, I think there is a big difference between “transparency” and “Honesty” … which I believe is what most people really expect. I try to strike a balance on the transparency bit. Honesty is important. I try to be honest but sometimes it is trumped by “kindness.” : )

    This is a great comment Erica. Thank you!

  • Ok, I’m going to figure out how to be more mysterious now : ) I’m hearing that it is a good thing! Thanks Kaarina.

  • Hi Mark

    I think your persona is authentic and professional and enhances your brand without a doubt.

    I also think using mystery is a valid approach to developing and implementing a business strategy as whole and in particular social media channels provide tools to achieve this objective in unique and creative ways.

    There are examples everywhere of brands who cultivate mystery and scarcity in a manner that enhances their reputation for exclusivity and premium pricing.

    As you point out it is really all about the strategy a business intends to use and a careful consideration of how their marketing communications channels can be used to create a sense of mystery that enhances brand equity whilst still being engaging.

    In my view cultivating mystery can and does work but this approach depends on the service, product or brand and a companies objectives. I don’t think this is a simple strategy to implement and deliver in reality and really needs a unique blend of experience and talent to pull it off effectively.

    I do think however that a small enterprise or individual can use it effectively.

    Thanks for the insight Mark.

  • Ahhh .. good one. I’m too much of a blab to pull that off I think!

  • Great points here. Like your thinking here Kenny. Always great to hear from you!

  • I just read Mark’s post, and decided to comment. Then I read yours and you just about said what I was going to say, and probably better!

    Yes, we do keep certain personal aspects about us and our lives a mystery….. and as I get to know more people I meet on twitter via phone or IRL, and hear them say ” O, I didn’t know that about you” I realize we’re giving exactly what we want people to have, a Personable brand with out being too personal. I really love how you said that about Mark.


  • I agree with Erica, you’ve given a balance of business and personal life. We may sometimes be off when they ask about our personal life because we have the right to do so. We always have to keep in mind to keep every aspect organized to separate them from each other.

  • There is a difference between being honest and transparent. I’m not sure we really want — or deserve — complete transparency as far as revealing person details but I do think we should expect honesty. Thanks!

  • You address truth issue on that topic. Great thought! Thank you for sharing.

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