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July 12, 2007


The truth shall set you free…

Transparency was one of last year’s Web 2.0 buzzwords.  I think transparency is harder in practice than one might expect.  Why?   While it conceptually makes sense, it goes against a lot of deeply engrained corporate wisdom, and against much of the crowd mentality present in the online world.   Transparency works best when a company can be an industry whistle blower,  simulataneously offering inside perspective on an obvious problem, while aligning itself positionally, with the customer’s interest.  Such was the case with redfin, but this situation likely proves more the exception than the rule.  To meaningfully advance transparency, a change in mindset and behavior in both corporate and private camps is required. 

Corporate Culture – Brand Image

Companies spend millions building a brand image.  That brand will have primary attributes that the company most wants you, as a customer or potential customer to associate with it, and that is the focus of the messaging and advertising.  The brand image also contains a lot of intangibles that brand marketing and PR executives don’t wish to see publicly unraveled.  Conceptual attributes like competence and integrity  These may sustain collateral damage, having more to do with how transparent communications are received and reacted to by the public, the media, and marketplace opponents.   There is good reason for concern, and left unchanged, that concern serves to limit the degree of transparency a company can pragmatically afford.   Corporate culture must evolve, to become more risk tolerant, to maintain a longer term perspective in order to support greater transparency.  Transparency requires a strategic commitment, and will not be successful if policy varies with the online sentiment temperature of the day.

Community and Media

But it’s not just the corporate cultural aversion to transparency that must give way, its the social and main stream  media reactions and behaviors that underscore the very reasons why companies are adverse to being transparent.   If a company experiences difficulty delivering on it’s commitments, and is confronted by an angry community demanding answers, the company has a seemingly difficult choice to make in it’s communications.   Would it rather be seen as open, honest, and incompetent, or competent, but indifferent or worse, disingenuous?    These quickly become the epithets posted in customer responses on a corporate blog, or sensationalized in the headlines when mainstream media picks up the story.   The online community, media included, should be mindful that it’s responses will serve to guide the future course of corporate communications.    Tolerance and moderation support dialog and transparency. If the community responds derisively, no matter the tact taken, then the conventional wisdom of saying little to nothing apears more valid than ever as the appropriate strategy.  Transparency is ironically, checked by the very people demanding it.

Effecting change

It’s in the observation of that dynamic, that the real power of social media can be harnessed to change both corporate views of the relationship with individuals, and how individuals learn to shape that view.    Corporate blogs and communications must become more transparent to create a truly meaningful dialog, with dividends of a lasting relationship with the brand.   The community must understand the influence of diverse  and at times, conflicting executive points of view within corporations, and work co-operatively to enable the corporate culture, and relationship to evolve.     The addage of management by the carrot and the stick applies.   Reward (carrot) positive efforts toward transparency with comments of recognition, and constructive advancement of mutual objectives – commerce.  Provide correction (the stick) for avoidance with pointed, but factual comments related to the matter at hand – solicit accountability.     By following this practice, over time, corporate executives will see a cause and effect pattern, and policy will begin to shift.  To ensure clarity of this cause and effect, it is important that the community manage and police itself in these respective efforts, to ensure they are being applied judiciously.   Fringe members that perpetuate inflamatory language regardless of circumstance, poison the environment.  They detract from the collective opportunity for all.  If a company finds itself rebuffed regardless of sincerity of effort, it may withdraw from the conversation.   Likewise, if a company does not undertake risk, and provide substanative content, the community involvement will likely decline, and affinity to the brand along with it.

Staying the course 

Transparency is probably much like crossing a busy highway.  Your safe on either side, but playing in the middle is very dangerous.  You can’t start to be transparent, then clam up when faced with angry voices – that’s stopping in the middle.  One must continue the conversation to conclusion –  continuing to present the facts in regular installments, whilst remembering to pause and listen to ensure comprehension and understanding.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2007 12:21 am

    Wow, fantastic post… and relevant to me as I prepare a blog post for when we push the next version of our product. I plan to not only touch on new features but stuff that just wasn’t working right that we improved. Since we’re in stealth beta still, this type of “we didn’t do it right the first time” talk is probably much more forgivable than once we launch.

    Then again, as long as you’re listening to your community and evolving with their interests in mind, they’ll probably applaud the positive changes and not the less-than-positive road to get there.


  1. Traces of Inspiration » Blog Archive » How to Help Corporate Transparency Grow

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