Why Are You Scared To Be Outspoken?


[This post gets a little personal in my attempt to make a larger point. If that offends you, we humbly direct you to Search Engine Land, Twitter or Daily Puppy.  Pick your own poison. We’ll see you tomorrow for Weekend Coffee Links.]

My job is to help brands find their voice online. Interestingly, the first step of that isn’t to help them define a voice or create a strategy for using it. The first step is convincing them that it’s okay to have one. Because most brands grew up in a society that told them it wasn’t okay. They were told that having a voice was a liability, that it scared people and that speaking up could only do more harm than good.

The reason I am good at my job is because I understand that fact. I understand it because I grew up being discouraged from using my voice the very same way that most brands are.

As has been alluded to in few previous posts, I stutter. That simple fact means that I understand the power of voice better than most people could. I know what you lose when you’re scared to use it and how pretending you don’t have a voice takes away who you are. In essence, I grew up like most brands on the Web – mute, scared and without an identity. That element makes me uniquely skilled at my job and it’s a strong reason why I think Outspoken Media can help you create your brand better than any other online marketing agency. I helped build this company; I don’t pretend not to be biased.

I got my voice back the same time that many brands began claiming theirs – when the social media wave hit. Suddenly we had blogs and Facebook and OMG, TWITTER! There were all these tools that encouraged brands to speak up, to communicate and to connect with people in ways they hadn’t before. They were given everything they needed to take back their identities. And they were applauded when they were brave enough to enter the fray.

So was I.

I’m asked a lot why I’m so outspoken on the Web and how it is I could be comfortable revealing so much of myself. I imagine Rae gets the same question. I don’t know Rae’s answer, but I know that for myself, while most people are scared to expose themselves, I’m scared not to. I’m scared of the moment that occurs when you decide NOT to use your voice because you’re afraid of the reaction. I’m not afraid of the fallout of speaking, I’m afraid of losing myself when I don’t speak. I’m afraid of what happens when instead of showing people what I’m about, I choose to nod quietly and let them get the wrong idea.

As a business, that should terrify you, as well.

I wouldn’t be afraid of using social media to claim your voice, I’d be afraid to continue to go without one. It’s much scarier to let people assume what you believe and make opinions off of that, then to just tell them. It’s scarier to me to lose a reader by not letting them see me and Outspoken, then to lose a reader who saw and just didn’t like it. Because at least that way, I gain followers/readers/clients that are with me because they like what I do and what I produce. Then you create real relationships that will last and don’t spend your day trying to remember what lie you told to what customer so that you can re-tell it to them tomorrow.

The greatest thing social media has done is give businesses back their voice. It’s made it okay to attract customers based off what they believe in and how they do business. It’s made us all small business owners by providing new tools to express our core values and ideology through blogs and social conversations. It’s allowed us to create brand capital that we can cash in on. There’s power in that. There’s power in engaging with people by letting them see what you and your business are about.

And I know plenty of readers think that people buy from companies with the best product, that it doesn’t matter if they feel a ‘connection’ to them [I love Heather Rast‘s reply]. If you believe that, then you need to get out of marketing. Because what do you think you’re doing? If that was the case, there would be no commercials, no ads, and no need for any of us.

Of course it matters. It so completely matters.

People buy based on brand and brand is created through user interaction. Social media is about creating genuine interaction and pulling back the curtain so that people can see who you are and you can give the right people another reason to do business with you.

If you’re a business that’s backing away from social media and playing the “pray and wait” game, then I really only have one question for you.

What are you trying to hide?

The reason Rae and Rhea and Dawn and myself can be so outspoken and transparent is because we’re not hiding anything. We are who we are and we believe in the services we provide and our ability to get clients results they can’t get anywhere else. If you’re not outspoken, and are instead building a brand based on politically correct phrases, fake handshakes and regurgitating – what are you scared to put out there? What don’t you want people to see?

Exposing your brand via social media is only scary when you’re trying to hide your flaws. Fix them and then tell the world about it. Tell them what you fixed, why you fixed it, and how it’s all leading up to you becoming a better company. Because that’s what social media challenges you to do – to be better. Because it’s only when you’re proud of your company that you feel comfortable talking about it.

After the years of people asking me why it is I’m so outspoken on the Web, I’ve come to believe they’re asking the wrong question. The question isn’t why we’re so outspoken and willing to expose ourselves, it’s why aren’t you? When you have a chance to tell customers your story and shape their experiences, why would you ever run from that?

Why are you afraid to be outspoken?

Your Comments

  • David Zemens

    I, for one, am glad that folks like you *are* outspoken. Aside from being entertaining, which is a side benefit, I have been forced to re-learn that it’s OK to be controversial.

    As it relates to your business and social media exposure, it’s been said time and time again: Others are talking about your brand via social media. Are you comfortable letting others decide the direction of the conversation or do you want to participate in it, too? To me it’s a no brainer.

    Jump in. The water might be cold at first, but after some time you get used to it and start to swim around in the social media pool. There might be a few sharks in there with you, but for the most part I think you will enjoy the swim!

  • Kim M.

    So much of what you say about companies and brands applies to just well to being an authentic human being. And that is why I luvers you.

  • Marjorie Clayman (@RLMadMan)

    My only confusion here is why this would be offensive.

    I think you are a breath of fresh air. You are one of those people who inspire other folks to say, “man, look at THAT person. I want to be like that!”

    That being said, sometimes people or brands or companies need to do some soul searching to define their persona. We all wear costumes at different times in real life. I don’t act the same way around my family that I do around clients or acquaintances. Online, though, you’re talking to all of those people, plus strangers, at the same time. How can you mesh all the facets of your complex character into one cohesive voice? That can be a bit tricky.

    Great post.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think trying to define “who you are” is definitely a big project for most businesses. We all wear different costumes, but you need to determine which traits from which costumes are going to allow you to project the strongest image. It’s not easy, no easier than taking off the costume in real life, but that’s why it’s so powerful when brands get it right. And that’s why there are agencies out there to help them figure it out.

  • Kristen Judd

    Lisa — Thanks for such a powerful and inspiring post. You frame the question so perfectly. Why are people/brands so afraid to put it out there? Why are the reluctant to let people know that they have a distinct personality and perspective? It reminds me of my favorite poster in my office which has a quote from Dante’s Inferno, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

    Thanks again for another thought provoking piece.

    • Lisa Barone

      Okay, now I have to go buy that poster. Awesomeness!

    • Daniel Redman

      That’s a rad quote, Kristen.

    • Elizabeth Campbell Duke

      Where do I get me one of those posters?

      I completely agree with “the hottest places…” sentiment.

      Speaking up doesn’t have to be aggressive – knowing your foundational principles and living in accordance with them gives you “calm, assertive energy” (sorry, been watching the Dog Whisperer). In my personal branding practice, I don’t have clients begin to work on marketing/communications until we’ve discussed personal mission, goals and values – and then explored their target audience(s). By learning to speak our truths, we often become more willing to listen to the truths of others – and find that we have more common ground with others than we might otherwise have thought.

      That said, there are times when we need to invoke the “hottest place in hell” concept and respectfully decline work. This happens when we’re asked to help a person or organization put out ideas that we believe will result in harm to others. We can only serve one master – and we each have to determine what that will be (I recommend Covey’s 7 Habits for info on principles-based “branding”) A huge (and sometimes loud) discussion about when that would be can be accessed off-line at many local pubs and coffee shops at any given time ;D.

  • Kevin @ Employee Revolution

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. My favorite part:

    “I’m afraid of what happens when instead of showing people what I’m about, I choose to nod quietly and let them get the wrong idea.”

    So true.

  • Cory Huff

    Lisa, I’m with you, 100% As an actor and marketing consultant, I really get the power of story, of voice.

    That said, do you really think at this point that there are that many companies who are willing to change enough to engage?

  • Paul

    Very poignant, Lisa. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately on this exact same point.

    I imagine I’m not alone, as many people start putting it all out there, perhaps for the very first time. Many of us have grown up maintaining and trying to hold onto a certain sense of privacy. But this whole “new” way of being is shattering the old ways as more and more people get involved with Facebook, respond to online discussions, tweet, blog, and the like. It’s really nothing short of a revolution in “how to be”, as so many people start coming around and engaging more with social media. Soon thereafter, I’ve seen many of these same people even become advocates!

    You’re right, what’s so bad about being honest about who we are? For people and companies alike, isn’t it better to define ourselves before others do it for us?

  • Kristin

    Lisa –
    You hit the nail on the head with that question. One of the biggest reasons that I follow outspoken media’s blog/social media so much is that you guys aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

    I think the biggest problem these days it that too many people have their suit and tie Pleasentville (great movie by the way) image in their mind of how a business should be run. They’re afraid to let people know who they really are, when really its better to show your true self and at the end of the day could bring in a much better connection.

    Personally I know I need to stop hiding a lot of the times and jump out more. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Way to speak up!

  • john andrews

    Sacred cows make the best hamburger. But.. that recipe will never appear in Reader’s Digest. Not too difficult a concept to understand if you try.

    Go Lisa Go. You’ve got some bigger brand agencies paying attention now…

  • Hobo

    Something to hide? Some companies are total crooks. Some companies don’t even care about their products or customers. The guys running these companies often end up millionaires. I know a couple. I don’t think social media is the answer for these types of companies.

    The last thing on their mind is to give their customers another chance of having their voice heard. It’s a shame that these few companies and sales staff operate and push unhappy customers into forums to complain and totally screw up their online identity. It’s a right pain as an seo to try and fix, too. The founders of these companies set up, sell out and get to f….

    Reading your post it’s as if you are scared by quite a lot :)

    It’s interesting to hear you stutter and how you are so bold a blogger. I did as a kid (in fact I didn’t speak a hell of a lot at all when I was young and had speech therapy), and my son does now a little – maybe that’s why I am not so bothered about being inappropriate when I speak these days. I am just glad I got it out there in the first place. Or maybe I am just an ****hole I get called that quite a bit these days… :)

    i don’t really do the controversial blogging bit to get attention because it’s not really my first love – seo is. But I see it for the good advice it is. If my liveliehood or life depended on it – i’d do it in a heartbeat.

    Still the best blog in my feedreader by a long shot! :)

    PS I hear particular breathing exercise programs are good for stuttering – have you tried them?

  • Daniel Redman

    Ok, I’m going to be a jerk amongst pleasantries on this one. This is the third post I’ve read in about a month (Joe Hall, that other guy, etc.) that operates on the premise of ‘Here’s my affliction, and my triumph’. My gut tells me that it is OK to have that close of a relationship with your followers, and that such a post can win some hearts and minds, but that this post model might need to be shelved for corps. The last thing guys want when stumbling out of a bar (or search engine) is to have the shoe-less one-legged homeless girl ask for a pity ‘engagement’. Do you feel positive about a brand that begs for it or grossed out?

    • Daniel Redman

      BTW, I’m not diminishing your accomplishments, because they are impressive.

    • Lisa Barone

      I feel positive about brands that exude who they are and the ones that don’t apologize for their beliefs or how they do business. That’s what this post was about for me. I brought up myself simply to frame the discussion as to why I think I “get” more than most the fears businesses have with social media. And why they need to get over them. It’s not really about pity. I’ve spent the past year and a half growing Outspoken Media and creating an outlet for myself to share opinion and conversation. I think I’m doing okay.

    • Susan Esparza

      I think they’re more of a kick in the pants. Lisa does it with a stutter. Joe does it from a wheelchair. They’re more badass than any ten of the rest of us put together. What the heck is /our/ problem that we can’t get up the guts to do what they’re already doing? Is our lack of “affliction” a stumbling block because life’s always been too easy?

      I don’t think anyone is asking you to love them for being weak or broken. Your analogy is off. It’s not that they’re “the shoe-less one-legged homeless girl”. They’re the girl you spent all night wishing you had the guts to talk to. And yeah, she’s got one leg. But there’s nothing crippled about her.

      Lisa and Joe and any number of other “this is my story” posts aren’t asking for your sympathy. They don’t need it. They’re challenging you.

      • Kim M.

        I second that. Lisa doesn’t want you pity. She has no use for it and it’s insulting. What *I* hear Lisa saying in this post is, “I use my voice … what the hell is your excuse?”

        If I’ve learned anything from Lisa, it’s how to more comfortable being myself and stop worrying about whether everyone likes me. No one is going to remember you (or your company) if you’re just busy making sure you don’t offend anyone. Take a stand. Let people know who you are and what you’re about. You might not be liked by everyone, but you’ll probably be loved by a lot more … and no one gets evangelical about something they just like.

  • Hobo


    That’s quite surprising as I didn’t pick up ‘pity’ at all when I read the post. What’s up? You looking for some pity and think all these folks with “afflictions” are crowding you out? ;)

    Yeah I get your point about pity posts not being for corps. But you seem to have took something from this article I clearly missed. :)

    PS I’d wager everybody has their own ‘afflictions’ to get over….

  • Daniel Redman

    It’s a very dangerous move for a company to position themselves as the ultimate altruists or rags-to-riches types stories. DANGEROUS! Ask BP how their effective years of campaigning CLEAN,RESPONSIBLE,SAFE turned into this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8NIrw2l9x8&feature=player_embedded
    I suppose you could argue that they had something to hide at the time of the campaigns inception and ignored it. But businesses are unfortunately are in a place of being required to push the boundaries. SEO for example, what was black hat years ago, now grey-white. Black hat now will be grey in a year, white in 2? Pushing the envelope drives innovation. Where does it leave room for outspokenness?

    • Lisa Barone

      BP didn’t get in trouble for positioning themselves as eco-friendly. They got in trouble for saying they were eco-friendly and then taking shortcuts that showed they were anything but. They got in trouble for lying and potentially ruining American waters.

      Being outspoken isn’t about pushing the envelope. It’s about being true to your business and open with the people who are part of it.

      • Daniel Redman

        Let’s be honest, this IS an amazing post, but not for the lesson of blogger integrity. Lisa, you understand your audience better than just about anybody. You know what makes them tick, what stirs emotion, controversy, indifference, et al; how to capitalize on it for the health of your site/blog/business. People can read your posts word for word, or read your content strategy (between the lines) because they are inherently very different and the strategy of the post itself is your mastery. On any given Monday-Friday I expect nothing less than a tutorial on how to write a blog post to stimulate comment flow. I’m likely insane, but I see this post in a more literal perspective. 1. Tug the strings 2. Triumph over tragedy 3. You can take part in all of this.
        BP compounded the disaster with there brand positioning and I’m willing to bet the marketing engine behind it had no formal integration with the safety tech’s. The betrayal was organizational, not one of morality or integrity.

        • Lisa Barone

          I fear you give me way too much credit.

        • Chris Miller

          On any given Monday-Friday I expect nothing less than a tutorial on how to write a blog post to stimulate comment flow.

          shhhh! Not all the readers here know the Lifetime-channel-esque-slash-marketing-support-group-emotional-engagement is really a ploy for comment generation!

          Me, I love me some Lifetime: Social Media Edition, so go on. As consumers get more and more consumeristic and brand aware though, they are also catching on to marketing ploys quicker and this may no work for the mainstream soon – but for now, being loud, out (spoken) and proud is probably not a bad idea. If your customers enjoy Lifetime, anyway.

  • Cory Huff

    I think several people are missing the point here. It’s not about looking for pity or being ‘outspoken,’ despite the title.

    What Lisa’s trying to say is that companies fear being real. They fear that the people inside their organizations might appear online, that they might be seen as fallible human beings who like to swear, make bad decisions or screw up.

    What this post is really about (if I can be so bold as to jack this conversation, Lisa), is that the culture of fear in business, indeed, in many people’s everyday life, prevents them from seeing that those same employees are wonderful human beings who can do amazing things for their company.

    If you empowered customer service to talk to customers like they were human; if you let your technical people out of their cave to explain how the things really work; if you incentivize sales staff to go for the long term relationship instead of the hard close now, you’d have a connection with your audience that is fanatical.

    • Ryan Knott

      Exactly. The point of the post wasn’t to have brands or companies begging their customers to feel sorry for them, but to empower them to speak truthfully about who they are.

      I especially liked the idea that social media gives all companies the power to be small businesses in terms of being able to engage on a more personal level.

      Lisa brought up her stutter only to illustrate the fact that she understands better than most the power of communication and how stifling it can be when you aren’t allowed or able to express yourself.

      I think this was a great post.

  • Bob Gladstein

    That wasn’t a blog post. It was a frickin’ manifesto.

  • Tim Speicher

    There’s a lot of B.S. out there in writing and especially in marketing. I applaud Lisa and other brands who are simply telling it like it is. People can see right through the crap. We are smarter than that.

    Be true to yourself and in the end, you’re giving people what they want – authenticity.

  • Jessi

    Who says a blog post can’t be a manifesto?

  • Ainslie Hunter

    Lisa, I guess I am scared to use my real voice online because people think that a teacher shouldn’t be showing businesses how to connect with their audience through social media.

    I find it easy to be the real me in my two niche blogs (studying skills and cutting horses). I am even the real me in my paid writing gigs for education and parenting websites. But under my name it is a real struggle to be authentic. And then i just rehash the same old content as other people.

    I will keep the post close when I write my next post – to remind myself to be brave and do better.

  • Tony Verre


    By far one the best posts of the Outspoken repertoire. And, I can’t say I disagree with one word here, and yet when I say that, there’s voice in the back of my head that tells me there are reasons to reserve oneself, one’s brand. The definition of “outspoken”:

    given to expressing yourself freely or insistently; blunt: characterized by directness in manner or speech; without subtlety or evasion

    There are times for every measure to have it’s place. Being outspoken is a great quality, one that gets you into trouble if you use it incorrectly, but a great quality nonetheless. But there is also a time to listen and reserve oneself as well. It’s the times you are listening that will allow you the times to be outspoken.

    That’s just me, and my two cents.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    “I’m not afraid of the fallout of speaking, I’m afraid of losing myself when I don’t speak. ”

    I don’t dare desire to recount how many times I paid the price as a result of not speaking. And the memory of that, the lingering ghost of the pain from that, propels me forward whenever I catch myself going that way again.

    We who live and work in this moment of time in the world have a gift that left unused, would be a tragedy. And for this gift, this platform, this marketing and communications medium, I am truly grateful.

    And being able to meet and observe people like you, Lisa, someone who gets it in such an unequivocal way, just brings a smile to my face as big as the sunshine.

  • Dan Connolly

    For me it is always a difficult choice. My basic belief is that discussing politics, morality or religion with clients or customers could be a fatal mistake. Why? Because for most people I am too far to the left. I don’t know too many people with money who share my beliefs.

    Lots of my customers like me and bond with me but don’t have a clue that I don’t agree with their right wing tea party beliefs. I feel that if I challenged their stupid shit that they say that I would be significantly less successful than I am. That is the basic reason why I hesitate to be transparent and I don’t feel like it is necessarily a good business practice to be totally honest. I don’t want to limit my clientele to one particular segment of society. I don’t have to agree with your beliefs or even like you to do business with you.

    I don’t think that I am violating any kind of moral code that will land me in the hottest part of Dante’s inferno. I think there has to be an agreement before you start criticizing or challenging someone’s core beliefs. Unsolicited advice is not a beautiful thing. There is a reason why you don’t cast pearls before swine, (they just eat them).

    But at the same time I do admire those who have the courage to be transparent,. I am a little jealous really, it must be nice to have enough business that you aren’t worried about offending anyone.

    • Bob Gladstein

      I’m politely semi-transparent (translucent, I suppose) when it comes to something like that. I just tell prospective clients that I mean no offense, but I don’t work on sites that promote religion, conservative politics, or weapons. If they ask why, I’ll tell them that those subjects are so far outside my experience that I don’t think I’d be very helpful to them, and that’s as far as I let such conversations go.

      That’s one huge advantage to being a freelancer. In my last office job, I had to work for a client that will remain nameless, but was in my opinion pretty much pure evil. I had a good enough relationship with my bosses that I could tell them how I felt about it, but we were a small enough company that I still had to do the work.

  • Yasser Khan

    I for one, wouldn’t keep quite on the sidelines if something came in the way of justice. And yes, this is a trait more of character than of brains.

  • Shannon - SKS Designs

    Whoa! This is one of the best posts I have read in a long time and speaks true to the hearts and souls of many companies out there.

    Ironically, I am an introvert that was raised in an extrovert family. Growing up, I never had a voice because I couldn’t get my voice above the level of my Italian New York family. So, I sat quiet for so long and let everything just unfold around me.

    Today I am a VERY vocal woman and work in helping bring companies to their customers where they live – online. My specialty is in “Human SEO” – meaning that I bring not only the science of analytical data to the table but bring together the human side of all parties to build that relationship.

    I applaud you for a post well-done and will most certainly be passing this onto my online clan!

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    Lisa, I think the lines “It’s scarier to me to lose a reader by not letting them see me and Outspoken, then to lose a reader who saw and just didn’t like it. Because at least that way, I gain followers/readers/clients that are with me because they like what I do and what I produce.” really says it all. A lot of us are fearful of personalizing our brand, not because we may scare off some prospect, but because we may scare off a good customer. Brands are very protective of their customers. It would be great to be outspoken about the brand so that you could attract the right prospect while protecting yourself from running off your current customers. Again, great thoughts in this post.

  • Clyde

    I grew up a stutterer as well. Great example. More power to you.

  • Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    Best to be what you really are and not pretend to be one who you’re not. Best to be outspoken!

  • nandoism

    I’m currently working with a client that is afraid to share her voice, she’s “muted, scared and without an identity “and it’s so frustrating working her social media. It seems she undermines every advance I make to get her going -maybe I’ll point her to this particular post–good grief, then she will know my frustrations–oh well, it’s worth it.

  • Rick Alpern

    This blog post and your responses demonstrate excellent writing. Nice work. Or as we like to say in Boston, “That was wicked pissa!”