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Transparency in Business: Engage Readers by Revealing Royal Screw-Ups

The following post was an entry by one of our spectacular finalists in our Awesome Engagement Strategies Contest. Finalists showcased their ideas, and whoever got the most traction (i.e. comments and social shares) within five days of publication was crowned the winner. Check out this post for the complete list of Engagement Strategies Contest finalists!

screwed-upDo you have a rather lifeless, arms-length relationship with your readers?

Are you afraid to be human, vulnerable, transparent and reveal your weaknesses? Have you felt obliged to focus on your strengths and paint yourself as the perfect go-to expert in your field?

If so, you might be creating a passive, unresponsive community that respects you but doesn’t really trust you.

I was in that exact situation and it was awful.

Let me explain…

I Thought it Was All About Being Perfect

Years ago I was a homebuilding consultant helping people to build their own homes.

The importance and complexity of a homebuilding project dictated that I project myself as a guru-type who had it all figured out and would never make a mistake. I had to convince them I was perfect. Or, so I thought!

By constantly emphasizing my credentials I got a lot of people to read my articles and agree I had the knowledge. But very few of them converted to clients. The problem was that my “perfection” created a gulf between us. They didn’t connect with me so they didn’t trust me with their projects.

I wasn’t communicating with them on their level. And they remained passive and unresponsive.

In a minute, I’ll share how I turned it all around – almost instantaneously!

Engagement is Critical for Trust

If you’re in the same boat I was, it is really frustrating! You have readers and prospects but not much action. They aren’t buying. They aren’t sharing your content. They just sit there!

Here’s the thing. They aren’t connecting with you.

You want action? You need to turn passive prospects into doers. And I’m not just talking about comments on your blog. I mean action takers who trust you so your business skyrockets. But how can you make this happen?

A great way is to expose yourself to scrutiny. Let them see your soft underbelly. I’m going to share exactly how to do just that.

You can’t sit atop a pedestal and cast down your nuggets of truth and expect them to devour them like hungry little puppies and then hope they sit up and beg for you to help them.

You’ve got to be human – vulnerable. You’ve got to relate to their issues. You must demonstrate that you understand the problems your prospects face. They need to know you’ve been there and that you care. Vulnerability will do that. Here’s what I suggest.

Get real. Be transparent. Share your failures. But, do it strategically because there are potential downsides. You’re human but you don’t want to look foolish.

Expose your “weakness” incorrectly and you’ll end up with just another failure and, of course, that’s not what you’re after.

Before I explain how to do this, let’s look at some of the benefits of vulnerability, failures, engagement and community.

Vulnerability is Ingratiating

Your community doesn’t want a sophisticated guru or expert to look up to. It wants a real human being to interact with.  They want to feel the love.

That pedestal may demand a certain respect but it’s not going to help you form a close relationship. It may help you convince them you know your stuff but the readers won’t be motivated. It may even build a certain amount of trust but it won’t be an active trust.

If you want them to bond with you, you’re going to have to get down off the pedestal and show them you need those meaty nuggets just like they do.

When they can clearly see you struggle too, it’s endearing. And it tells them you feel the same hungers and pains. They’ll form a connection with you that makes them more inclined to take action when you ask them to.

And that’s exactly how it worked for me.

Engagement Leads to Active Trust

Back to my story about helping people build their own homes.

Imagine the trust people needed in order to hire me to guide them through this complicated and all-consuming process. They really needed to believe I would never abandon them.

As I said, it wasn’t perfection they needed to see. Active trust came from another source. Here’s how I turned everything around.

I did something counter-intuitive. I began sharing challenges and failures with my audience and prospects. I demonstrated that homebuilding was tough and full of “failures” along the way. Suddenly, I was being real and that was the key. They saw that my clients and I screwed up at times. I became one of them. And everything changed.

My prospective clients could now see how I tackled my job and how much I cared. Amazingly, I was sharing failures and people were forgiving me and engaging with me. Wow.

Once we formed that bond, they almost immediately began to trust that I would work hard for them to solve potential problems. They saw themselves involved in the process of building without being alone! This was an engagement that led to active trust.

The Secret to Sharing Failures Positively

But how do you share your vulnerability and screw-ups without having it backfire on you?

First, you must know your stuff. And you must truly care. You see, showing weaknesses, while it may ingratiate you to your audience, can undermine any faith you want them to have in you. So, the trick is to build their confidence in you at the same time you expose your flaws.

It’s really not that hard.

Think of your weaknesses and mistakes as a surface you. A flawed you that everyone can see and relate to. The goal is to show your flawed outer self then lead your prospects to a deeper you. Inside, at your core, is where they’ll see the depths of your experiences, talents and knowledge.

In my case, as I shared the travails I experienced with my clients, my prospects could see that we were experiencing many of the problems they feared they might have. At the same time, they could see the solutions I brought to the table and that I wasn’t about to abandon anyone.

They saw the depth of my knowledge, experience, and personal involvement as I creatively and doggedly reached solutions. This built a tremendous active trust. And they hired me.

You can do this too. Here’s a strategy you can implement now to engage your readers and prospects that translates into business!

The “Top My Failure!” Contest

Run a Failure Contest post. It’s simple and yet it’s so engaging. Here it is:

Challenge your readersto top your failure.

Share your biggest failure or sequence of failures and how it led you to a solution or perhaps to a personal strength you never knew you possessed. Pick something that directly involves your business or any desired message.

Just be sure that it’s a failure you’ve either solved or are now solving and demonstrates a quality your audience wants from you.

Make it playful. Be vulnerable. Show some self-deprecation if you can. Tell them how embarrassing the whole situation was. Laugh at yourself. Let others laugh with you! Then turn it around to a positive at the end of your story. Make it a great learning experience.

Now, here’s the really fun part. Engage them by asking them to share their biggest screw-up. Challenge them to top your failure if you want. Set some rules, tell them to pick something they have solved or are solving that led to the discovery of a personal strength.

Two Big Wins for Them – One Huge Win for You

This is a powerful strategy in several ways. And everyone wins.

You’ve helped your readers in at least two big ways.

First, you’ve helped them see their current failures in a brand new light. They’ll be encouraged to look for the positive outcome. They’ll dig to find the lessons learned and they’ll feel better about themselves.

Secondly, they’ll begin to see that failure is not the bad boy we so often think it is and that dealing with failure makes one stronger. Failure is nothing to fear. It’s just another tool in the toolbox. You’ll be shedding new light on the beast and they’ll respect you for that.

The biggest win is yours. You’ve turned passive prospects into engaged doers. They now see you in a completely different light. You’re off the pedestal and into their hearts. They trust you with an active trust that leads to business, subscribers, more readers or whatever you’re after.

Best of all, you’ve just upped the ante and set the tone for a more intimate company-customer or blogger-reader relationship. You’ve made life more interesting and business more fun and profitable for you.

Are you brave enough to try it?

About Carmelo Bryan

Carmelo Bryan (@CarmeloBryan) is the founder of Critter Wisdom and author of the soon to be published "Guru Addiction Syndrome - Regaining Control of Your Life as an Achiever." His goal is to help struggling entrepreneurs find their truth and passions. Go meet him now!


  1. Shannon Lagasse says:

    Here’s my issue with this post: the word “vulnerability”. It implies that other people have the power to hurt you, which I ardently believe they do not. I do, however, like the words “honesty” and “transparency”.

    This concept is CRUCIAL in my business working with emotional eaters and eating disorders. They’re looking for someone who truly UNDERSTANDS them, who can empathize, and who ALSO has knowledge, but the understanding part is of the utmost importance.

  2. Carmelo says:

    Hey Jason, good to see you! I’ve caught a glimpse of your interactions around the web from time to time. Very provocative thinker you are and yes, very vulnerable.

    You’re right, why should we limit our vulnerability? Isn’t it interesting how often and easily we can think we have to put on a certain front in order to depict ourselves as worthy, educated, valuable or whatever. Who are we fooling? Well, we can fool others, that’s a given but the worst part of this practice is that we really end up fooling ourselves as we begin to believe our own lies.

    Your comment about asking for help is awesome. Sure, we need to know when and how, and that takes practice and thoughtfulness, but getting specific help for specific needs at the right time from the right people is powerful.

    Thanks again for your comment and contribution! See you “around!”

    1. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hehe, thanks Carmelo, “provocative” and “vulnerable” are two things I’m absolutely thrilled to be recognized as/for 🙂

      I’m also glad I’m getting around (often without even trying 😉 )

      I love what you’re saying here and for me it comes down to something very simple:

      When we are “depicting” ourselves as something, we’re crafting an image of what we’re not.

      FAR more powerful to actually BE the quality we’re aiming to depict.

      Depict resourceful, or BE resourceful.
      Depict vulnberable, or BE vulnerable.
      Depict unlimited, or BE unlimited.

      And yep, see ya around!

  3. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Carmelo! Great stuff 🙂

    (and … Danny, Megan, Robyn, Amanda)

    I’ve been on hiatus from most of the blog scene for a while now, but this post was sent my way, and I can understand why.

    I totally agree with what you’ve said in this article, and I’d love to see more people talking about stuff like this. Vulnerability is power.

    Interestingly, I could be seen as something of a poster boy for ‘failure’ and ‘vulnerability’, and I’ve written many, many articles on both subjects. In fact, my first post ever on Firepole was about my record number of failed businesses 🙂

    I’ve bared my soul on tons of topics most people won’t touch with a 10-foot pole, including: homelessness, my exes, my family, sex, money, suicide, masturbation, arrest and more. ( )

    Every time I’ve ever been vulnerable, from the heart, whether I was able to express it “strategically” or not, it’s really worked out for everyone involved.

    I totally encourage it.

    There’s also another side of vulnerability, which is “asking for help”, and knowing who to ask, and when, and how — and barring any of that, simply reaching out anyway.

    For myself, I reached out to my list (and to Danny, as a matter of fact) and although some would consider it small, the immense support I received, of all kinds, is absolutely touching.

    All that said, I’m thrilled that Ryze is a juggernaut that continues to… well… rise, no matter what’s thrown at it, if not on the schedule I’d prefer, and it’s ’cause of principles like the one’s in this post – stay tuned 🙂

  4. Janet says:

    I love this insight because I have always thought of myself as the UNauthority. Meaning I’m not really an ‘expert’ or ‘guru’ but someone that people can relate to who is going through or experiencing similar things as my readers or worst. The whole idea is “if I can do it, so can you” and I want my vibe to me more like a friend who will help motivate you and get past your blocks rather than this elite perfect person. The important thing is I want to be relatable.

    I like your ‘failure contest’ idea. Fun way to engage! My biggest ‘failure’ would probably have to be where I live. I ended up moving from Oregon to Manila, Philippines but sacrificed first world living amenities since I live in a ghetto and am so in debt I can’t afford much else. Not sure how to make it a positive other than I am blessed with many things and I have the faith to see it through. I know I am crafting my rags to riches tale.

    1. Carmelo says:

      Hi Janet,

      I’m really glad you stopped by. You know, I believe the best gurus are the “non-gurus” because I believe they actually touch more lives in important and lasting ways. I hope you never stop “relating” in your own, personal, passionate way.

      Yes, you are crafting your tale. Whatever tail you want – rags to riches? So be it! We are blessed and with belief we see it through. All my best to you! There is a flip-side benefit to every single challenge we face. 🙂

  5. Amandah says:

    Hi Carmelo,

    I’m writing a blog post for my writer website based on the technique outlined in this post. I also thought of one for my website for writers. It’s refreshing because even professionals make mistakes and have royal screw ups now and again. We’re human too. 🙂

    “No one trusts a “know-it-all” and without knowing it I’ve fallen into that trap in the past. ” As Oprah would say, “This is a great tweet-tweet.”

    1. Carmelo says:

      Hi Amandah,

      Thanks so much for coming back! But, more importantly, you are taking action on your idea … that is something to celebrate!

      Whether they’re “Royal Screw-ups” or “failures” or mistakes or just certainly things we forget from time to time we definitely are human and need to acknowledge the fact and forgive ourselves! Sometimes that forgiveness starts with sharing our foibles openly and honestly, don’t you think?

      Keep up the good work, Amandah!

  6. Great post and information Carmelo!

    My friend, Kimanzi Constable, has learned this principle. He’s telling his story, failures and all, and people are loving him for it. They’re able to see a human being just like him who’s doing what needs to be done but not always right all the time.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Carmelo says:

      Hey Joseph … thanks for stopping to comment! Yes, he is a good example of a forthright approach to living and communicating. I think that’s what we all secretly crave when we follow others. But, we often lose our way when dealing with our own issues in life.

      Onward Joseph! 🙂

  7. Carmelo says:

    Hey, that’s awesome Amandah. Ha! Yes, moms always do know best.

    There’s really nothing inherently wrong with emphasizing your credentials because, in the end, people want to know you’re capable. What we tend to forget, however, is that a good degree of respect is already afforded us by the fact we have a good looking and professional website with content (which yours is and has btw!) And we don’t need to overdo it.

    Respect is good but trust is what brings in the business. And trust is earned by being genuine, human, and yes, fallible. No one trusts a “know-it-all” and without knowing it I’ve fallen into that trap in the past. It’s so easy to, especially when trying to grow a business. But it’s counter-productive many times.

    I’m so glad this helped you. Let me know how your tests work out!

  8. Amandah says:

    Hi Carmelo,

    This is an eye-opening post. Well done!

    I like how you stated, “I got a lot of people to read my articles and agree I had the knowledge. But very few of them converted to clients. The problem was that my “perfection” created a gulf between us. They didn’t connect with me so they didn’t trust me with their projects.” I’ve been wondering if I too overemphasize my credentials on my writer website and in my blog. In fact, I’ve been thinking about toning down my cover letters, LOIs, and resume. And my mom (they always know best), has been telling me the same thing. 😉

    I have a couple of ideas for blog posts and will ‘test’ your technique. Thanks again for this great tip.

  9. Carmelo says:

    You really hit on something there. Trying this in your everyday life sure does take a load off your shoulders. You remove the need to defend and deceive. Great point … I’m glad you stopped by and commented!

    Don’t you think sometimes we take life too seriously and that gets us all bound up in trying to protect some image we have of ourselves? Hey, we all “screw up” let’s laugh a little and accept that we’re fallible but resilient beings that kind of swerve our way to where we want to go! 🙂

    1. D Hayes says:

      I totally agree Carmelo! If people would quit trying to put on an image of being super-human that does no wrong, they would get alot further. Everyone goes through a moment in their life that just is, as you put it ” A Royal Screw-Up”.
      Own it, talk about it, learn from it, and grow as a human being. As you get older, use those examples to teach your children PRIOR to them being in a heap of #&($. You will thank yourself for it later, probably save your children alot of heartache, and they will thank you.
      Lead by example, and the example also includes being able to say “I screwed up”.

  10. D Hayes says:

    Hi Carmelo,
    In this article you are engaging an audience. One can’t help but want to comment on this.
    I love the idea of Top My Failure. As everyone works so hard to make people believe that they are perfect and the top expert in their niche, actually realizing that no-one is perfect and having the spirit and soul to say “I screwed up”, then explaining how the problem was fixed, can bring more inter-action and trust. People in their day-to-day lives should try it. They will find that the next day gets a whole lot better and brighter 🙂

  11. Carmelo says:

    Hi Kelly! What a nice thing to say … your favorite! I’m so glad that it has given you something to implement in your own work. You’re already on the right track with your parenting workshops – sharing your mistakes. Why should we hide them and pretend we’re some sort of perfect being?

    Yet, as you explained, “the world” scrutinizes and blames and so we (especially parents) want to defend ourselves and even hide our mistakes. There are so many advantages to being open and honest beyond just the engagement factor.

    I wish you the very best as you formulate your online event. I’m sure you’ll do great! Let me know!

  12. Kelly Pfeiffer says:

    This has been my favorite engagement strategy so far on Firepole Marketing’s contest. I agree that revealing mistakes and an “I’ve been there” approach builds trust. I teach parenting workshops and I had one parent who came up after a live class and said, “I keep coming back because you keep sharing your parenting mistakes.” Thanks for inspiring me to push forward and use this strategy online. I’ve been wondering exactly how to approach this issue and think I need to put it out there to parents. But parents are so scrutinized in our culture so I think it’s gonna take some extra encouragement from me for them to share their mistakes. But really that’s what I want for my audience – to be okay with not being perfect – to be able to embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn new skills and try different strategies. Thanks again. I’m going to plan a parenting mistakes event for my on-line audience.

  13. Sometimes even a minor personal glitch that doesn’t really apply to your profession can inspire true love.
    I wrote about the morning I locked my keys in the car and told it in a forehead-slapping-murpheys-law style, with oodles of thanks for all my rescuers. The lesson was obvious and everyone could tell I probably had not yet learned my lesson.
    However, not only did it make a huge giggling comment response, but it won me a job writing human interest for a newspaper, the editor’s comment being, “I LOVE it!”
    That was a job I did not actually want and did not keep long, nevertheless, it shows how that type of essay resonates.
    I still get cute comments from folks who know me, such as, “You got your keys, right?” with a wink and a smile. I’m astonished at how many know who I am and desire to connect with me about that one small piece of writing.

    1. Carmelo says:

      Ha! Great example even if it’s just a “minor personal glitch” as you said. I guess we all just so human and it is comforting to know that everyone else is when we do things we wish we hadn’t.

      People want us to know they “get it” or that they “get you.” People want to feel a part of a mission or anything greater or even different than their own little world and grab on to very human experiences.

      Thanks for sharing your example. And it made you famous, Katharine, another bonus! 😉

  14. sunil says:

    I’ve been surfing online greater than three hours these days, but I never discovered any interesting article like yours. It’s lovely worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made excellent content as you probably did, the net can be a lot more useful than ever before.Anyway great article with great and rich content.Good job.keep it up

  15. Jevon says:

    This makes so much sense.

    But it seems a bit misleading to call them failures because I first thought they were problems that you encountered and could not solve, and wanted to share with your readers and clients, which is kind of shooting yourself in the foot.

    So it sounds more like major obstacles and challenges that you did not think of, but were resourceful enough to handle, a talent that I’m sure everyone would appreciate.

    1. Carmelo says:

      That’s a good point about calling them failures, Jevon. Often we label events and ourselves failures when we face challenges that stump us and slow us down.

      For instance, is it a failure when screw up a project a few times before we finally figure it out? Is it a failure when we fail a test before we finally learn and pass a class? It’s often called just that but I believe we can acknowledge these “failures” and turn them around. We see them only as bumps and detours.

      As I explained in the post, to really inspire people while at the same time being human it’s important to reveal “failures” wrapped in their remedies.

      What you’re saying is a failure is only a failure when you give up. While some things in life can be abandoned, most of the time we’ll want to keep going forward until the outcome we desire is attained.


  16. Chimezirim Odimba says:

    When people see you’ve had the kind of failures they are currently dealing with they know you are NOT a theorist. People prefer folks who’ve been there and done that. It simply just rings true that you’ve really gone through the process and are in a position to help them out of their challenges.

    1. Carmelo says:

      Well said. And doesn’t it apply in so many areas of life? We don’t go in search of theories but we seek out people who have real life experience. And then what we really want is to be understood and heard. It sounds like you’ve had personal experience with similar things. It’s about working together, isn’t it?

  17. Carmelo says:

    Isn’t that interesting, Dwayne. It seems that people relate to being human and having struggles. Imagine that! 🙂

    And it IS funny that you just did this recently … great minds? I hope you were able to create a page that worked out better for you. All the best to you!

  18. Dwayne Golden Jr. says:

    Thats so funny I just did this recently in my last blog post I metioned how my facebook ad campaign wasn’t getting the # of leads I liked because of the way my capture page was set up and got a good response.

    Great post!

  19. Carmelo says:

    Hi Mys Palmer! Yes, in business there is that constant potential for frustration which can lead to a constant stream of fodder for content.

    For me, in the situation that I described, the “momentum” came in that people were suddenly able to look beyond the challenges of the moment and see the future that they longed for. It was all about recognizing that we’re fallible yet resilient at the same time.

    Showing my weakness rallied the troops, so to speak, but also made engagement so much easier that momentum was much easier to maintain. It became a cooperation rather than a one-sided approach.

    How do you continue with momentum? You’re right on in getting people to focus on how they’re solving things.

  20. Mys Palmer says:

    Nice post Carmelo!

    I recently suggested some similar advice with regards to having an endless stream of content by writing about what is frustrating you in your business and how you’re solving it.

    Safe to say I enjoyed this post because it’s right in that ball park. With a twist.

    I’m curious, when you completed your “trump my failure” contest how did you continue with that momentum?

    I have my presumptions but why not get it from the horses mouth so to speak ; ).

    Have a great Hump Day!

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