Clayton Ruebensaal: The Importance Of Internet Anonymity

There’s a growing undercurrent of anti-social media resistance among young internet users. The Ritz Carlton marketing exec explains why.

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook for guys like Sam. A well-heeled, well-educated 28- year-old New York financier. Single and social, he has friends from prep school, from university, and from his club in Darien. He captains his boat “Silver” down the Long Island Sound into the city for all sorts of adventures. But Sam isn’t poking friends or tweeting his every move. He closed his Facebook account and has retreated from social media.

Why?

He says he’s on the social sidelines because he doesn’t want everyone to know everything about him. That’s a powerful position to take considering that everyone he knows is on Twitter and Facebook. This is a young Republican conformist, not a rabble rouser looking to be contrarian. But with 250 million photos being uploaded to Facebook every day, Sam will be seem from all angles, and talked about from all angles. That’s more exposure than he’s comfortable with.

What does that say?

There’s a budding undercurrent of anti-social media out there among a small group of core target audience for Facebook messaging, posting videos, tweeting, pinning, and sina weibo-ing. They’re marketing guys, designers, politicos and I-bankers in New York City, L.A. and Beijing. The common thing they say on the subject is that they don’t want their lives to be so “out there” for everyone to see. They want to control what people know about them and when they get to know it. Admittedly, the behavior of this small group doesn’t imply the imminent downfall social media.

But I believe there is an important lesson for brands in this micro-trend. For all the positives of social media, there are some negatives. The idea of not wanting to be out there for everyone to see demonstrates a very interesting insight: social media has made the world such a transparent place that all the mystery is gone. Mystery is interesting, and mystery can become extinct very quickly in the social space.

The value of mystery is that it makes people wonder and it makes them want to know more. Mystery is the grey area between stranger and friend that makes you continue to pay attention. I know everything, positive and negative, about orange juice and I choose not to drink it because it’s too high in calories. No mystery, case closed.

However, Budapest is mysterious to me. I don’t know much about it; I’ve never been there. When I talk to people who’ve visited I pounce with question after question. I’m genuinely interested because I don’t hear or read about it every day. I travel a lot but I still long to discover something new in the world.

I feel the same way about Louis Vuitton. I know a bit about their history and their manufacturing process. I’ve purchased their products. I find myself choosing Louis Vuitton over their competitors because I find them more interesting. They surprise me. I look forward to what they’ll do next because they’ve captivated and delighted me in the past. From Marc Jacobs’ artistry to Murikami’s brand videos, it is a brand that’s always thoughtful and unexpected. The brand has an air of mystery; not knowing what they will do next is a big part of what makes Louis Vuitton so attractive. Their ability to surprise and delight. And from a marketer’s perspective I see them as masters of mystery. They slowly give consumers a little bit less than the full picture, every time.

Hollywood has been the ultimate master of this concept. From James Dean to Steve McQueen to Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, Hollywood has always understood the financial value of leaving audiences wanting more. Gretta Garbo understood this when she retired at 34, leaving audiences begging for more. Begging. You can see the allure wane with leading men and women who expose too much of their private lives and don’t retain their mystique. How much less interesting is Mel Gibson now that we have heard his rants? Did it enhance Russell Crow’s image after we learned how badly he treats hotel staff? No, it’s too much information.

The right balance between TMI and mystery is difficult to achieve. Fans and movie audiences will read and listen to almost anything about celebrities. But once we’ve seen and read so much about anything, it’s overkill. Like eating too much of one snack, you move on for good sometimes because the taste is overly familiar. We can almost become disgusted. See Kardashian, Kim.

With every brand director pushing for more and more social media exposure, I think there’s a useful lesson in this. Keep your audience wanting more, especially in social media where it’s free and easy to publish everything you want to say. Instead of adding one more thing, delete one more thing before pressing “tweet” so that you keep a bit of mystery around what you’ll say next.

Social media is powerful and wonderful in so many ways. Still, it’s important to value mystery. You can only pull the curtain back all the way once.

Clayton F. Ruebensaal III VP of Global Marketing The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. You can follow Clayton on Twitter @claytonIII where he tweets about marketing and luxury travel. And ever so rarely, a personal detail or two.

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