In the technology-driven, socially conscious business world, consumers often expect to know the companies they’re financially supporting. They may want to know how the business model works, what makes up the links along the supply chain, the talent behind the company and the executives keeping things running.
Technology has made this easier. Experts encourage professionals to brand themselves by making themselves visible and communicating with their audience through social media and blogs. Going against the grain, one entrepreneur refuses to use social media in an attempt to protect her identity. In fact, Nico Sell, co-founder of the self-destructing messaging service Wickr, has never had a social media account and plans to keep it that way. “If you’re connected on the Internet in some way, you’re not safe,” Sell explains to OPEN Forum. She predicts that being “unsearchable will soon be desirable” in the next few years as people get tired of having their privacy breached and identities stolen.
Practicing what Sell preaches, Wickr doesn't collect user information. In fact, if users forget their password, they’re going to have a really hard time logging back into their account because the company doesn’t keep that on file either. When you join the app, there will be no suggestions as to who you should connect with because Wickr doesn’t know who your friends are. Many companies are known to collect user data to sell to advertisers or other services. Sell promises Wickr will never do this and, instead, will turn to in-app purchases for their business model. Eventually, the app will charge users if they want to use more attachments or have longer conversations, but the main product will always be free. The company will also license its key advance encryption technology to partners, particularly in the financial world.
So far, what the company is doing seems to work. Wickr has more than 5 million downloads and raised $30 million last year from a group of investors that included CME Group and Jim Breyer, renowned early Facebook backer.
How is Sell doing it? If she’s against branding herself through social media, how is her company thriving? “I reluctantly came into the spotlight. I had to because I’m CEO,” the long-time security expert says. When you’re chief executive, you have to think of your company first—even if you’re a bit wary about the Internet. Sell shares how you can brand your business while protecting yourself at the same time.
Provide useful content.
Know who your customers are and connect with them through content you provide on the company’s website or blog. For Wickr, it’s about providing security-based information to people who understand the real risks of having their information stolen.
Talk to a select few journalists.
You have to get your story out there somehow. When choosing who to speak with, Sell points out, “less is more.” “Pick a couple of channels or people that fit with your personality naturally and concentrate on those and those alone,” she suggests. She also recommends not telling the media your private information that can be compromised, such as birth location or birth date.
Be educated if you’re going to have a social media account.
Sell advises against using social networks for personal conversations. If you do use social media specifically as a marketing tool, you should be knowledgeable about privacy, “like making sure your geo tag is always turned off and your location isn’t tracked,” she says.
When it comes to your company’s social media, leave that in the hands of someone who’s capable and who also believes in your mission. About a year ago, Sell hired Grete Eliassen, a professional skier, as Wickr’s director of marketing. Eliassen is the first female freeskier to win a gold medal at the Winter X Games and became a sensation at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. As an athlete, Eliassen was encouraged by her sponsors to use social media to build her brand and tell her story. Now, when using social media for Wickr, Eliassen says she focuses on platforms where the company can connect with their target audience, such as Snapchat. “A lot of people use [social media] to post about their family and friends and going on vacation, where they live and things like that, and that’s where it gets really scary,” Eliassen says. “People are posting on these social media sites and they don’t realize that all of the information can actually be tracked and it’s out there forever.”
Be active in your community.
Be true to the people you’re creating your products and services for because they’re the only ones who matter. Sell is an organizer for Defcon, an annual hacker conference, and runs r00tz Asylum, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids ages 8 to 15 how to become hackers. “I find that kids under the age of 18 are rebelling against the oversharing Facebook generation. When we teach them things like how easy it is to break into sites like Facebook and Twitter, that kind of justifies feelings that they already have,” she says. “We also teach kids how easy it is to listen to someone else’s cellphone conversation or read their text messages or their emails or get their usernames and passwords.”
By taking the steps above, Sell believes you can still share your story, stay true to your mission and protect yourself from dangers lurking on the Internet. And whenever you speak to anyone, always “imagine it on the cover of a magazine," warns Sell. "Always have that standard.”
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