#EdBallsday, a broken snow globe and authenticity

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What can Ed Balls and Will from The Deep Gift shop in Hull can teach us about authentic organisations?

A few days ago I rang the Deep Aquarium in Hull with a request that seemed far-fetched.

My children had each been given a snow globe by their Grandparents after a recent visit there.  They each had a sticker with their name on and in the snow globe a Gentoo Penguin that the Deep is raising funds to conserve.

Unfortunately, one of the globes broke a few days ago, and all parents will know the distress of a favourite toy being broken or lost.  So, nothing ventured nothing gained I at least thought I should try.

I was put through to Will in the gift shop and thus started a chain of events that perfectly demonstrate how to market yourself in an open world – despite being entirely low-tech.

Authenticity Rule One: Be yourself

I briefly explained the situation and part way through the call I felt something unusual.  He appeared to be thinking carefully about my request and considering how he could help the little girl who he had never met.

He was concerned about the packaging and whether the globe might break if he sent it out.  He offered to call me back.  I explained the concept of ‘the school run’.  He agreed to call back at 3.30.

Authenticity Rule Two: Be good

At 3.30pm I had a call back from Will. Exactly when he said he would.
He told me he’d do his best to ensure that the globe got to me safe but he wasn’t sure.  He refused to charge me for postage and packaging.  “It’s a goodwill gesture”.

Two days later a large package arrived.

I was nervous so opened it before letting my children know.  I should have taken a photo of the packaging, never have I seen something so well wrapped.

Rule three:  Have fun

Inside was this:

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We were already bowled over by how good the Deep (or rather Will) was.   But “Best fishes” and a picture of a fish?  Now we *loved* the Deep

But what if being yourself and being good are incompatible?

Well yes, if you are a racist or like to send abusive tweets to people there’s not much hope.  But for the vast majority of humanity they aren’t.

Take Ed Balls Day, on the face of it this is an example of why people are scared of using twitter.


We’ve all done something similar – I defy anyone who has been on twitter for long to not have had to delete a tweet or two (in my case usually because of a typo).

But, and this is the beauty and simplicity of Ed Balls Day (google it),  he didn’t delete the tweet.

Which means Ed Balls day is an object lesson in rules 1 and 3: be yourself and have fun. 

Is it an object lesson in rule 2?  Not if what you want in your politicians is a robotic perfection.  But do we want Yvette Cooper (whom Ed Balls is married to) to go home from asking the Prime Minister a question about child refugees and stare soulfully into the distance or do we want to know what she made Ed Balls do to celebrate his special day?

If you are going to do it do it right.

The fact that any of this needs saying I think tells us a lot of how organisational culture in general and management of social media in particular can change and become more natural.

If it was your niece or nephew you’d probably write ‘best fishes’ too.  If you sent an email to your sister with just your name typed in you’d never hear the end of it.

So why would we expect our organisations to behave as if they have no sense of fun?  Or that our public figures can never press enter when they meant delete?

I hope that more organisations will be like the Deep and trust their employees to think for themselves and more public figures will treat social media as a way of building relationships, even if that means being vulnerable.

Because we’ll get more effective organisations and more interesting, human public figures if we do.

Authenticity matters.



Online and offline do of course mix and create great marketing copy.  But that’s not why authentic organisations do it.

A nice by product for the Deep was they got a thankful tweet and a loyal customer (and this blog post for that matter…).

But do I for one moment think that is what Will was thinking when he wrote a note to my daughter?

Here’s what I think he would like to know:

Last night, on Ed Balls Day, as I put my daughter to bed she asked to hold her globe.  “I love my snow globe so much” were her last words before sleep.

And Will, she thought ‘best fishes’ was the funniest thing she’d ever read.



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