Every time a brand or influencer on social media encourages you to let your guard down, be authentic, show your vulnerability, an angel gets its wings, or so I’ve heard.

Vulnerability is perhaps the most overused word of 2019, and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down this year. With that, I’d like to take a second to set the record straight on vulnerability and what the heck that word really represents.

Brands: Proceed With Caution

I get it. We’re all tired of feeling deceived by brands we used to love. We want to feel like we’re spending our hard-earned dollars to support brands that, in turn, support our values. We want honesty and integrity from brands and the influencers that claim to support them.

No issues here, folks.

Where problems arise is when brands (and influencers) confuse vulnerability with “disclosure”. Now, we obviously can’t talk about vulnerability without quoting our fearless leader, Brené Brown, who so eloquently schools us in her novel, Daring Greatly. As she puts it,

“Using vulnerability is not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite — it’s armour.”

There is a right way and a wrong way to be vulnerable on social media, and there is a mighty fine line between the two. When used appropriately, vulnerability can bring brands closer to their consumers and build deep trust on a foundation of truth and shared experience. When used incorrectly, these same brands run the risk of appearing tone-deaf, confusing and untrustworthy.

So, how can brands and influencers avoid the vulnerability trap on social media? Consider this helpful starter pack below.

Vulnerability Pitfalls to Avoid

Understand the difference between using vulnerability and being vulnerable.

Sharing deeply personal or embarrassing moments, or really anything less than our ideal selves on social media feels scary. But you know what feels worse? Using vulnerability as a tool. Rather than disclosing information from a place of openness, it’s become commonplace to see brands and influencers sharing faux-vulnerable moments in an effort to appear relatable. This tactic can easily come off as oversharing rather than opening up. At its worst, it can feel manipulative.

So, how do we avoid it?

Faux-vulnerability is fairly easy to dissect once you know what to look for. Once again, our girl Brené breaks down the telltale signs perfectly. Use her handy checklist to decide if you may be using vulnerability as a tool:

  • Why am I (as a brand or influencer) sharing this?
  • What outcome am I hoping for?
  • Do my intentions align with my values?
  • Is this sharing the service of connection?
  • Am I genuinely asking the people in my life (or, for brands, my customers) for what I need?

Avoid a disconnection between copy and creative.

There is really nothing more cringeworthy than scrolling past a deeply personal caption on social media, bearing information that we feel barely deserving of or equipped for, paired with a perfectly-manicured selfie.

Whether you’re sharing as a brand or an individual, make sure that your visuals are reflective of the sentiments in your copy.

Share a complete story, not just a snapshot.

If you’re going to be vulnerable with your audience, you have to commit to the details. Before and after stories that focus on triumphs over trials feel incomplete and even insincere.

Take the typical weight loss journey post on social media. Thinking of getting real with your followers by sharing a photo of yourself before you started your journey in the gym?

Don’t do that.

Vulnerability does not lie in an image of you at your “worst” — instead, it’s found in the details of the journey between that moment and your “after”. Daring to share the details of that story is true vulnerability.

Don’t feel obligated to share a resolution to a setback.

“Last year was hard, y’all. I lost my job, faced many personal setbacks and had to overcome a ton of adversity. But now, here I am, one year later and thriving.”


Why do we wait until we’re on the other side of hardship to share our stories? Vulnerability does not mean sharing your personal setbacks paired with stories of triumph.

Getting into the nitty-gritty of hardship in a public space is really, really hard, and I commend anyone who has the guts to do it. That is true vulnerability.

Sharing a story of overcoming that hardship is not vulnerable. It’s a celebration of your accomplishments. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with this type of sharing. But if your goal is to build bridges by sharing intimate details of your life with people who may be able to relate, that ain’t it.