March 2009


Recently, we have discussed the shift to secrecy to radical transparency. I usually think of large corporations and brands to be transparent and authentic, but what about the government. Government can be transparent and authentic?  Government has also made the transition to new social media communication. During the presidential election of 2004, Howard Dean did one right thing before his infamous “Whoo!” that destroyed his campaign. Dean was one of the first to use social media tools in the political arena to communicate to the American people. This opened a huge advantage on the blogosphere by communicating his ideas to the masses. Social media plays an important part in the realm of politics, more than we think. Below is a video that explains the how new social media has impacted politics.

 

 

Today, the use of social media outlets has become normal in politics, especially elections. President Obama has mastered the art of communicating through social media tools like Facebook, Tweeter, and his campaign blog. I mean President Obama does have the most popular Facebook profile with 5,998,801 supporters. He just might have this “social media thing” down. President Obama has brought Web 2.0 into the White House. With the nickname White House 2.0, transparency and authenticity have become key concepts to the new administration. Ellen Miller, executive director of Sunlight Foundation, discusses how government should be open and governments’ responsibility. Below are some of her suggestions about government use of social media.

 

 

This idea of a transparent and authentic government relates back to the core beliefs of the social contract, where the government and citizens have a mutual relationship to inform and education the people on issues of politics. It’s our civic duty to stay educated on political issues but government has to supply the venue to enlighten the people.

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As we journey farther into the age of new social media, individuals gain more and more power. Dialogue and feedback with peers is treasured like gold and companies have to constantly try to win us over to keep consumers in a relationship. Corporations are going as far as exposing their inter workings of the business. Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail, Chris Anderson has notice the “shift from secrecy to transparency.” Like I stated in an earlier post, the traditional model of communication has been literally turned upside down. Most businesses policy of information outside the company to non-employees is confidential. However, something radical has happen to transparency. Companies have created a venue for people inside and outside the company to know the detailed  business scoop.

Companies like Dow Chemical have created intranet network using blogs for employees to discuss any business issue. These posts are unmonitored and unfiltered messages that never see communication person for tweaking. As a result, company’s communication and trust grow tremendously.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have used social networks as space for employees to communicate, but at a costly price. In The Economist, companies used Facebook and MySpace to reach a larger audience. Employees were using these forums to bash the safety standards and vent their frustrations about passengers on board. This immediately became a Public Relations disaster for the two companies. Companies learned from the event is to educate employees what’s appropriate online and follow company’s guidelines. The shift to radical transparency just came down a level. Companies are beginning to worry about the risk over the reward of social media. If companies are not ready for negative comments on issues, then companies are not ready for social media. Monitoring messages for “rouge employee” is understandable, but monitoring messages can dilute the raw feedback from others. Tim Leberecht says it perfectly in his article, Trends for 2009: Radical Transparency, when a company publicizes that they have nothing to hide, it highlights they have a lot to show. This is fundamental idea of corporations being authentic.

There are companies taking transparency to a whole other level. Marc Hedlund, CEO and co-founder of Wesabe, a web-based software company that gives financial advice, is taking transparency and authenticity to another level. Hedlund is taking calls  from 12-4pm to hear what consumers have to say. We should applaud him for his company’s efforts in radical transparency. Others should follow in his footsteps.

Michael Bailey, creator of future MobaTalk Conversation Studio, has put together a great checklist in warning others of how users of social media tools, such as blogs, microblogs, presence, wikis, and social networks, fake transparency and authenticity on the Web.

We all know it takes time and energy to have a transparent and authentic site. Today, most presence, miniature blogs, have easy interactive tools that allowsa  person or company to automate the process.

Here are my comments to his 10 ways to fake transparency

1. Using Twitter is great to message people and keep them updated. But like mass-texting, no one likes to receive the same general message your automated follow-bot that send a (Direct Message (DM) to new followers.

2. Publishing goals are great but they should be realistic. Having super-optimistic goals can grow annoying and tiresome for others. 

3. I despise anything that pops up on my screen. Shiny distractions like “Win an iPod” and banner ads that take away for the content turn me off. Keep it simple and clear. I’m trying to focus!

4. This is just plain wrong for a company to do. Skewing facts for people to quickly believe is just unethical. They might as well be reciting their sales pitch to you instead.  

5. I’m not an expert and I try not to sound like one. Blogging is sharing ideas and expanding information. I try to comment back to create real conversation to others. Interactivity is essential to create dialogue. 

6. Again, I not an expert and to talk to users as if they are behind-in-the-times is condescending. I personally hate to be talk down to or as if I should have known the information already. It’s a continuing learning process for people online. Remember, we are expanding information and  so get off your high-horse.

7.  Exploiting the insecurities of others is one of the worst things you can do to hind your own insecurities. It shows that you don’t have any confidence in yourself or the company.

8. Looking like the hero might work once, if you are lucky. People will figure you out faster than you think. People are watching closer now than ever online. 

9. I like it when people agree with my ideas but to ignore or block those who don’t agree is limiting the different points of views and valid argues others could be making. This is a sharing process but also a listening and responding process too.  I think everyone has learned their lesson from Dell Hell fiasco about ignoring readers. It only backfires in the long run. Check out Alex’s blog for more information.

10. Companies should use these genius suggestions if they ask for them.  To never implement others ideas, the company might as well not have a outlet out all to submit them. Dell’s IdeaStrom is a great example of a company that has used many suggestions from people outside the company.

Bill Breen’s Who Do You Love? article, written back in December of 2007, perfectly highlights the appeals and risk of authenticity. He lists four primary strands that gives a brand or person a emotional connection to viewers that truly make them real. The four stands are:

A sense of place. Authenticity comes from a place we can connect with others and does not need to be literal.

A strong point of view. When people are passionate about what they are doing, they share it to others.

Serving a larger purpose.  Naturally, people tell the truth and others believe them until shown otherwise. A brands’ primary goal is to sell. But, when they can convinces you that the companies’ profit-making is for only a by-product of a larger purpose, then it’s authentic.

Integrity. Authenticity comes to a brand that is what it says it is. When a brand’s actions and the story being told  matches up, then it’s authentic. 

And if you’re still not certain on how to spot companies faking authenticity then take the Quiz.

 

 

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February 2005, McDonald paid an ad agency, TypePad, to create a fake blog to go along with their Super Bowl ad hoax that a French Fry was shaped as Lincoln. The commercials were a two part series, one commercial at kick off show and one in the first quarter. Below is a video that has combined the two commercials together. McDonald’s began their complementary blog shortly after the commercial aired.

To see the commercials in two parts, click here to see part 1 and here to see part 2.

Because the commercial was brilliantly put together in a two part series, it double the catastrophic effect of destroying McDonald’s name.  The commercials were affective and got people to link into McDonald’s fake blog. Shel Israel blog teaches us that good blogs have passion and authority. Companies that hire ad agencies to  get bloggers to be connected to the company are not confident about their products. Faking blogs are lose-lose situation and will only catch up with the company in the long run. When a company has their name on a product or any type social media outlet, the company reputation is attributed to it. Such damaging decisions, like creating a fake blog, can a be company Waterloo. The consequences of deceiving the public throws a companies credibility and reputation right out the window. 

Now, McDonald’s has setup pretty transparent  corporate social responsibility blog that has revamped their image to the public. Their blog mishap has taught them a lesson and now states on the site, “CSR is everyone’s business, and we should communicate with that idea in mind.” Hopefully, companies can learn from them that it doesn’t pay to be fake. 

 

 

 

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Corporations, organizations, and individuals have been doing this “social media” thing for a while now. It was just destined to happen sooner or later. I’m talking about faking transparency. What’s even worse, sometimes it’s not an employee that is doing the faking. Jeremiah Owyang’s blog post, A Chronology of Brands that Got Punk’d by Social Media, added Exxon Mobil to the list in August due to a Tweeter imposture. A “Janet” created and replying to messages on the Tweeter account for Exxon Mobil without their authorization. Here is an example of one Janet’s Tweets.

The imposture accumulated a large following on Tweeter before being caught. This unpaid fanatic showed how easy it is to “brand jack” from a successful business.  The spokesman for Exxon Mobil, Alan Jeffers, reported on the story to the Houston Chronicle article to clear up Exxon Mobil name. Alan Jeffers also admits that Exxon isn’t using any other social media outlets to communicate about its corporate operations. Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, makes it clear that Twitter has polices that support company trademarks and brands. Since then, “Janet” has turned over the rights to Exxon. 

Being laggards in the online world doesn’t cut it in today’s society. Not monitoring the Web for how a brand is being used or talked about will cost you. Shel Holtz was one of the first to recognize the copycat and believes this should be a “wake-up call” for organizations that are slow to pay attention to the social media space. For more on Holtz ideas on Exxon incident, click here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the history of corporate communications, companies have been the ones setting their agendas. With social media, the traditional top-down process of communication has been turned upside-down.  No more gatekeepers of information.  We have seen so much unfiltered, unmessaged, and spontaneous information coming directly from the people that actually run these large corporations that it’s blogging our minds.

With blogosphere flourishing, users are able to read, comment, and vote on how they feel on any topic of interest. People are more in control of company or organization openness than ever before. Tom Kelleher, author of the book Public Relations Online, says that more people are “joining the party” because it’s so easy. Blogging has truly paved to the way for businesses and people to be transparent and authentic when communicating online. 

In a study of people’s perceptions of Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) blogging community, Barbara Miller and Tom Kelleher found that the authentic individual-style communication frequently is used in blogging. This worked for MSDN resulting in building trust, satisfaction, and commitment. Bloggers use what Barbara Miller calls a “conversational human voice“. Only conversational human voice was noticeable higher in the blog condition than in the non-blog condition, which highlights the unique value of organizational blogs to online public relations.  Blogs are computer-mediated context for conveying a “human voice” of openness, commitment, and positivity

Karen Miller Russell’s  Weblogs in Public Relations Education summarizes that even though 70% of blogs operate as private journals, social media can foster participation, openness, conversation, community, and connectivity. When users begin to participation in topics of interest, blogs can make anyone a content producer.  The connectivity of blogs increases the information-sharing process by linking more content to others blogs or sites.  Trust and credibility are established more and more with every linked source within a post. Communities build around shared interests and communication is expected to be transparent and authentic.  

We expect a blogger to be honest. We should view bloggers as if they were journalists and follow a code of ethics. For example, that after an item is posted it should never be deleted (except for editing corrections), and a public relations person should always reveal the connection to a client or employer when posting or commenting on a blog. Blogs have created a breeding ground for truth and conversation. Now individuals, corporations, and organizations have to participate, honestly. And if they don’t, we can only assume that they are hiding something.