The Cake Is A Lie

Posted on January 14, 2011


For those of you who know me or read my ‘About’ page, you already know that I am a gamer.  Right or wrong, pastime or waste of time, I’ve played them since the early days of Pong on my Atari 2600.  One classic game that I rediscovered last year is Portal.  In it, you puzzle your way from room to room while a voice from a ceiling speaker gives you scant instruction.  One taunt it gives you is the reward of a cake at the end of your journey. 

SPOILER ALERT: Naturally when you reach the end, there is no cake.  Instead, there are just the words scrawled on the wall: “The Cake Is A Lie.”  Indeed. No cake, just the crazy scribble of a mad person on the wall.

So why did I go off on this tangent?  The cake is a lie in the real world sometimes.  We want to believe that if we set up an online presence, like a blog or a social media account, that people will flock to it and pass it on to their friends.  You’ll have an “Old Spice Man” effect on the Internet and the world will buzz about your brand.  The Internet promised passive income, more customers and a bigger brand.  Didn’t it?

We’ve all heard that content is king.  I’ve even seen, “If content is king, then conversion is queen.”  I would say ‘conversation’ is queen.  Having conversations with your customers (publics) has a bigger impact and this is fundamental Public Relations:  Building Relationships.  It is longer lasting with your customers, employees and partner businesses. But real conversations take time to develop because trust has to be there.  Not an easy task.

Chris Brogan talks about ‘humanizing’ business. In his book Trust Agents, he and Julien Smith explore the issue of trust with your publics on the web.  With the crush of social media in the last few years, the customer is looking for another human behind your brand. Read: Transparency.  They don’t care about the new & improved with the secret ingredient.  The customer wants a quality product for its hard-earned money and wants your organization to be a trusted resource.  If you can’t stand behind your brand, there’s a problem. They will simply move on to the competitor.

Toyota is finding out that trust can be a difficult thing to earn back once you’ve lost it.  A TV commercial touting all the safety programs doesn’t replace the uneasy memory of top management before a congressional hearing.

This is why you need to have an ongoing conversation in place as part of your communications plan; not just your crisis plan or your damage control.  This isn’t about spin.  You need to be participating in the same online community with your customer.  Not up on high pushing out your usual broadcast message.  The conversation needs to be in place, add value and engage your customers as a normal course of business.

The middle of a crisis is not the time to throw up a Twitter page.  This reminds of Deepwater Horizon and BP’s Twitter feed.  I don’t remember if they legitimately had one before the disaster in the Gulf, but I remember well that the parody BP feed launched in May was much more entertaining and popular than the genuine one. The satirical @BPGlobalPR feed had over 20,000 followers in the first month.  The real BP Twitter had less than 5k. Probably because they repeated some bland or vague corporate message and nothing of value.

 The parody added value in its own way.  By poking fun at the incompetence of the giant oil company, it was living political cartoon pointing out the injustices playing out in the Gulf.  It made us laugh when we could see no end to the millions of barrels of crude spilling into the ocean.

Now you’re not reacting, you’re responding. And you do it with grace using the same tools as your customers because you’ve had time to be part of the community. You are a trusted resource and you bring value to the conversation; not just more noise.   You give a human face to your company, you stand behind your words and you are trusted.  Having a PR professional help you develop a plan and strategy to build those conversations is key to success.  A one day seminar on that

So maybe there is cake after all. Nah! There is no cake.  But there is a new breed of customers who want to interact with your brand once you are trusted.  That trust has to be earned through genuine conversation that brings value to their community both online and off.

Now I’m off to find some cake!