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A Lesson in Perception from the Mouth of Julian

Strolling through the grocery store the other day, my two-year-old (who was in the cart facing the opposite direction) starts squealing in delight “Look Mom, Look Mom, See ’em!” I turned just in time to see and hear my son follow up with “See ’em! Grandpas Mom, See ’em?”

The two elderly men took it well, especially considering its probably not good etiquette for a small child to point and scream in delight as if he were seeing a couple of lions in the zoo. Not to mention they might not necessarily be grandpas. But I guess it comes down to the old adage that if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

Perception is equivalent to reality. Even though no one could know without asking if either of those white-haired guys at the Hy-Vee Food Store were actually grandpas, if my two-year-old perceived that they were, then they were. Whether we like it or not, even by the time we are two, we already make assumptions and judgments about the world around us based on appearances and connections in our mind drawn from experience about what certain appearances mean.

I have tried to teach this lesson about perception to my older sons when it comes to getting jobs and meeting the parents of girlfriends. Often in the past, marketing been used to create an illusion, smoke and mirrors. Marketers’ jobs have been to make a company be perceived a particular way — maybe making the company look bigger than it is, or more innovative than it is, or more caring about the community than it is.

I recently had a discussion with a lawyer and an advertising agency owner at a networking after-hours about social media and what impact it has on credibility. The conversation was centered around this notion that social media and blogs really force professionals to be more credible in their fields. Viewing the blog and Facebook wall posts from business professionals is like glimpsing in through a shop window to see the barber, the tattoo artist, or the chef hard at work. A website may offer a glimpse of the “outside of the building” and gives a certain perception of the company based on good writing and professional graphics just like a freshly painted building on a well-landscaped plot of land. But you still have no real idea about the actual soul of the company or the quality of the people who work there until step inside the doors.

Many companies are nervous about this prospect and try to keep people from stepping inside and meeting their people by not having a social media presence or even forbidding it. Yet the mere absence of any presence may soon do more damage than protect against damage. The perception will soon be like the one people have today when a business does not have a website – old, antiquated, maybe even “a grandpa.”

Thought leaders with original content emerge out of a river of social media experts because of the transparency. In the days of stagnant web sites, as long as you could build an impressive and professional looking website and say great things about your business and every thing your business is expert in, then you could pass a business off as bigger and better than the other guy. But now the perception is if you don’t have social media links on your website and if your Facebook page only has 8 fans and you don’t have a blog then (right or wrong) you are old and worse you also don’t have any credibility to support the claims you make on your website. With social media there comes transparency and its harder to create a “perception” from a complete illusion because now not only can people see you, but they can hear you and interact with you.

Today for some businesses the website has even become less important than the blog and the Facebook page in terms of perception. If you go to a website and it looks a little old and outdated, but the blog and social media are insightful and fresh, then suddenly the old man can be perceived as young and vibrant. So just because your company might look like a Grandpa and be thought of as “old,” social media can completely change that perception. The trick is that in order to get the new impression of being new and fresh, a company really has to behave new and fresh.

Today, more than ever, if you look like a grandpa and you sound like a grandpa, then you probably are a grandpa – or at least that will be the perception.

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July 13, 2011 Posted by | education, social media, Social Media Mom | Leave a comment