The professional lives under a terrible curse: they can never look stupid. Stupid is a death blow to the consultant, creative professional, marketer, or PR professional. Looking stupid ruins your credibility, loses business and gets you taken off all the lists that you want to be on. Stupid people are shunned, omitted from all the best gatherings and worst of all, they are ignored. Who would want to be stupid, especially in the “always on” public sphere of social media?

Here’s the really stupid thing about all of this, though: some people who look profoundly stupid turn out to be incredibly successful. And trust me, it’s not because of their incredible physical attributes. Well, not all of the time.

Here are some of the ways that successful people look stupid in social media:

Asking questions

As a professional you are supposed to have all of the answers. After all, that’s why you get paid the big bucks, right? You’re smarter than the average schmoe and you are supposed to know it all. Therefore, asking questions will only betray your stupidity to paying clients.

Dare to Be Stupid
Image via Wikipedia

Well … wait a moment. None of us are telepathic, right? We need to get information somehow and, let’s face it, people don’t always volunteer the information right away. So, OK, I guess you do have to ask a few questions because you’re not omniscient.

Come to think of it: people do like to be asked questions and they do like to respond in public if looks like it’s a win-win scenario to do so. Another thought: there is that technique known as the “leading question,” when you ask a question because you know what the answer will and you want a bunch of people to know. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable in the court room, but it can be a valuable learning tool.

Is it always appropriate to ask questions in public forums? It depends on the question, of course, but maybe there’s more to be gained by letting the conversation happen in public view.

Maybe asking questions in social media isn’t so stupid after all.

Giving your opinion

Rants never helped anyone; criticism didn’t either. A number of smart people have remarked that social media exists for complaining. It provides a global platform to virtually everyone to moan about the things that bother them. It’s stupid to rant in public; it just makes you look like a jerk. (Right, Jason? Heh.)

Well … except when it doesn’t. The public stage is not the most graceful forum to give feedback at times, but sometimes it’s effective. No matter what you may think of the infamous “DELL HELL” incident from a few years back, that experience helped bring some positive change in the way Dell deals with their customers. Was it stupid for Jeff Jarvis to complain so loudly and so persistently? It sure doesn’t look like it was stupid if it did have a positive impact.

Being vulnerable

I’m not a communications or reputation management professional, but it sure seems like it would be stupid to be vulnerable online, especially if you are a company. If your company’s private customer data got published to the public Web, it would sure make you look stupid if you admitted that publicly, right? You can just hear that share price falling right now, can’t you?

Perhaps it would seem stupid to be vulnerable, at least in the short term. However, not only is disclosure a legal and ethical requirement, sometimes it’s the first step in defending and improving a reputation. People are usually more forgiving of a mistake (even a stupid one) than they are of denial or hiding.

Sometimes letting your shields down in social media means losing a battle in the short term, but it may be the only way to win the war over the long term.

Asking for help

I think I’m fighting a losing battle here. Since I’ve gotten through all of the prior reasons, I remembered little things like crowdsourcing, partnering and collaboration. Professionals are supposed to be self-sufficient and asking for help is the worst display of weakness.

Then I remembered a clever little term called scale and I realized that asking for help isn’t stupid at all. No one gets big, meaningful work done alone. And trying to go it alone all of the time may be the stupidest thing of all.

With the broad coverage of social networks and the Internet in general, asking for help using social media may be the most efficient, effective, and smartest thing of all.

So, dear reader, what do you think? Do you think it is ever smart to be stupid in social media? The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman is the founder and main brain of Thoughtwrestling, a blog devoted to helping you with creativity, creative thinking, idea generation techniques, problem solving and getting things done. He is also the award-winning blogger behind Broadcasting Brain. For more great ideas, follow Mark on Twitter at @markdykeman.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.slymarketing.com Jens P. Berget

    It's good to act stupid in social media, but not too stupid :) It's all about being human and social, even for big companies.

    It's better to ask stupid questions, as long as you're present. I'm having a problem with one company. I want to upgrade to premium, but I can't do it. There's no such thing as a way to upgrade other than cancel my free account and create another one. And their customer support is not social, even though the whole company is about social media and that's all they do. That's stupid, especially for a company involved in social media :)

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Jens, that boggles the mind…

  • http://humanvoice.wordpress.com tomob

    Iron law of social media. Be helpful, human and humble. (Some may perceive it as stupid – but that is b/c they don't know any better!)

    @tomob

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Hey Tom. Being human and humble are sometimes seen as being weak or stupid, but I agree with you that it's completely wrong to think about it in those terms.

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Mark,

    I love this post. Rarely do us professionals, particularly social media professionals, ever admit to not knowing EVERYTHING. On the contrary, it would be stupid to avoid using the very tools that have allowed us to cultivate vast networks in order to further our knowledge and expertise. Asking questions, crowdsourcing, and voicing opinions are what it's all about.

    One can presume that the question-asker is the less-informed, however they're the ones who are receiving knowledge every day. The one who remains silent remains stagnant.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Thanks Jon. I'm thinking that more and more people are starting to feel comfortable in admitting that they don't have the answers, but they have networks where they might find the answers.

  • http://mytwittertoolbox.com David Perdew

    I know a number of times I've saved myself a lot of aggrivation by reaching out to someone, asking a question that may have seemed stupid to someone else. No matter. The process of asking usually leads to even more collaboration when people see you're truly interested in gaining knowledge they might have to offer.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      More often than not, people are willing to help, aren't they?

  • http://inmedialog.com Alexandra Reid

    Perhaps instead of acting stupid in social media, we could all just be human beings who naturally have questions and opinions and sometimes are vulnerable and need help. However, we must be professionals even when we're asking questions or asking for help. It is incredibly irritating, and undermining, if a professional asks a genuine question to which the answer is obvious. Leading questions can be great to strike up discussions in social media, so long as the person asking the question has done their homework. I suppose the rule of thumb here is to think before you speak because, despite what our teachers told us in elementary school, there are stupid questions, especially if you are in charge of representing a brand.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Hm. This is a tough one, isn't it? If a question shows that you haven't even learned the basics of your profession, it's not going to look very good. It depends on context, of course: Socrates often asked deceptively simple questions to encourage his audience to rethink what they thought they already knew. On the other hand, if a car salesman doesn't know how to start a car – and tells me that during our conversation – I wouldn't feel very comfortable about buying from them.

      I don't like to think that there are any stupid questions, but there are plenty of thoughtless and careless questions. Same difference?

  • http://ocbizblog.com SteveAverill

    This is exactly what I ran across today. Undoing other “experts” work who basically lied and bs'ed their way to get it. And I just tweeted the same thing you mentioned. If you don't know say you don't know! Great post.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Thanks Steve. :)

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