The importance of keeping a good secret

If you pay any sort of attention to, you know, the world, you’d probably know the Catholic Church has chosen a new Pope this morning. 

It’s an intriguing time, not only because this process happens so rarely but due to the sheer amount of secrecy which has surrounded the whole affair.

Sure, we know how the Pope is chosen – through a vote and some smoke – but we don’t really know the details. In fact, so much of the process is kept under guard the Church makes a point of swearing anyone in contact with the Conclave to secrecy, under threat of excommunication.

We love secrecy. Secrecy is the reason Apple gets so much press about its products. It’s the reason why the Catholic Church is getting so much attention right now. In a time where information is so readily available, waiting for something seems imaginable. It’s a great tool. But we only love it when it goes our way, and too often companies don’t understand how to walk that balance.

This week I witnessed a meltdown of significant proportions on a certain unnamed company’s Facebook page. The company had a sale on a particular product, and there was a high amount of anticipation for the release. I had bought one of the products and was eagerly awaiting its release. 

Unfortunately, it went badly. There were delays, customers weren’t getting their products on time, and many, rightfully, were a little ticked off. So was I, but I mainly enjoyed watching the show unfold.

The company tried to make things right, but too often just left huge amounts of time blank without updating anyone. Everyone who bought from them was left in the dark as to what was happening with their product, or even if they ever would receive it at all.

In fairness, the company did make updates about what was happening. But the ongoing delivery issues seemed to mandate a constant response, which customers weren’t getting. They were simply left in the dark, sometimes for as long as 12 hours at a time during an ongoing issue.

On social media, or the internet at all, that just isn’t acceptable.

Everyone loves a bit of mystery. It’s why the Domino’s controversy this week was so divisive – the promise was bigger than the actual delivery. It just shows how big the power of silence, and anticipation, can be.

We all love a bit of a secret – hence the media circus over the papal election. But note; the mystery here isn’t about anything particularly controversial. The method by which the Pope is chosen is already known. We just don’t know the outcome.

When the secrecy is about something closer to home, like something for which you’ve handed over money, the response requires more finesse. Simply leaving people in the dark over important information isn’t going to cut it.

Secrecy, like anything else, is a tool. Use it well and you’ll create anticipation. Get it wrong, and customers may not forgive you.

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