It's important to remember that being transparent is not the same as divulging personal information.
We have never seen a moment like this on our history. Look at the combined audience of platforms like Blogging, Podcasting, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and more. What you are confronted with is a very interesting journal of how we - as a culture - are. There are both personal and professional components to it. Many people think that we are over-sharing, while others think that we're divulging way too much personal information. If you're looking to better understand what all of this publicness means, I can highly recommend Jeff Jarvis' latest business book, Public Parts.
The brand struggle.
As brands attempt to connect in a more real and human way with their consumers, they're also struggling and straddling the line of what would be considered a best practice (transparency) while fumbling into a world of asking for too much (or getting too personal). Recently, I came across a major consumer electronics manufacturer's Facebook Page and was shaking my head in disbelief at the content. Whoever was managing the community was clearly inexperienced. Going back in their timeline, the content was strong and transparent. They were dealing customer service issues, encouraging people to check out new items, asking their opinions on the industry that the brand serves and also provided interesting insights that were not just self-serving marketing blather. From what I can tell, interest in the Facebook Page from the general public seemed to dissipate over the past month, and suddenly the postings were these strange, personal requests. Things like, "so where are the parties at this weekend?" or asking people more personal questions that have no relation to the brand or their product development. You can see by the lack of response that a line had been crossed.
Brands are not people. People are not brands.
If a friend on Facebook asks, "so, what are you plans this weekend?" it makes sense. It doesn't when a brand does this (unless that brand is in the hospitality industry and trying to get you to come and spend your weekend with them). This is the immaturity of brands as they enter the more social fray. They try to get too personal and instead of it coming off as sincere, it comes off as creepy and pushes people away.
Transparency leads to personal.
If the people who operate on behalf of the brand are transparent in their interactions, then slowly - over time - these people will develop more personal relationships with those who are interacting with them. I think people like Richard Binhammer over at Dell exemplify this. When Dell first became active in Social Media (and they were on there very early on), Binhammer became a lighthouse and because he was truly doing his best to get results and be transparent, people began interacting with him (and many others) that much more. He was being transparent, but it wasn't overly personal and it (obviously) never crossed the line of divulging information about the company that was not relevant to the interaction. It was also done in a way where Binhammer was transparent but not overly personal about his own, personal, life. It struck the right balance.
We have to be able to take a step back and remember that a lot of these interactions are not only new(ish) for a brand, but it simply wasn't done all that much before the advent of Social Media (don't believe me? Then please read The Cluetrain Manifesto). Brands must use real people to have real interactions with the people interested in them. Those real people must know what the brand stands for and how to communicate that. It's about being transparent without damaging the brand. It's about being personal within the confines of the brand narrative. And, ultimately, it's about adding value and being helpful... it's not about becoming someone's best friend. It's also not about being fake or a corporate shill. It must be authentic and transparent. It shouldn't be creepy.
To what depths do you think a brand should go?