Transparency


Truth in Transparency We have been given power to contribute to the marketplace of ideas.  Are you using it wisely? The phrase “truth will out” can be dated back to John Milton’s Aeropagitica written in 1644.  He wrote,

Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter.

In other words, information should be available to all, both that are true and false. When you have a marketplace of ideas then the truth will survive. The truth will surface. Information has become democratized. There have been several instances where companies have not told the truth.  We can forgive those who don’t know but what about the companies that do know they are lying? Companies like BP that underestimated the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf. In a New York Times article, BP downplayed the catastrophic results to a measly 5,000 barrels a day, which turned out to be four to five times that amount…Opps. The press conference and immediate press release follow these events. It’s not the mistake that matters but what you do about it. For some it’s a little too late. They have been “Black Listed”.

The Least Transparent Companies:

The Most Transparent Companies:

This isn’t a corporate Red Scare but recognizing those who use transparency. We should give thanks to those companies that allow the public to know their business practices, business decisions, and factors that go into making those business decisions. Let us remember, “truth is both arms and armor”.  Transparency can increase brand identity and create brand personality. It can even increase return of shareholder value.

Growing up in this post-media generation, we expect honesty and directness. And we respect those who speak with truth and bluntness. Companies can’t spin their way out of trouble, especially not today with the Google monster growing stronger and stronger. It will eventually get you and when it does, POOF. There goes years of trust and brand loyalty. There is a barcode for each story stored in today’s digital library, the internet. That barcode is a link. A permalink, permanently available for all of us to see. Truth is just one Google search away.

Jeff Jarvis wrote in What Would Google Do?,

“Companies shouldn’t be democracies. But neither should they be dictatorships. They should be ––but too rarely are ––meritocracies. Your challenge is to get good ideas to surface and survive from within and without and to enable customers and employees to improve your ideas and products.

Transparency is cool. Transparency is smart.  What is your favorite transparent company?

Transparency Thickens the Skins

For years Daniel Snyder, owner of the NFL Washington Redskins team, has been absolutely loath by fans…well until recently. Seen by many as a well-off business man that knows little about football and more about ticket sales, sat down with Hogs Heaven blogger Ken Meringolo and Kevin Ewoldt for a tough Q&A. But can a Q&A restore a NFL owner’s image? Team Snyder is back in D.C.

After the first part of the interview with HH, I started asking myself: Is Dan Snyder actually like us more than we thought. Is he an average joe, Redskin lover, Sunday tailgating-griller kind of guy? The recent interview reminded Redskin fans that he is human. Not a blood sucking biz man. The Snyder-opoly that is taking place with the lots of land around the FedEx Field are being used to maximize tailgating experience, one of Dan’s precious memories when he was young Redskin fan. The interview hit Snyder with all the hard questions that needed to be answered. Sounds like Snyder’s is keeping the Skin fans at heart and not the ROI sheet.

With his new coaching staff, veteran quarter back, and rejuvenated  spirits of the other players; Snyder’s smartest business decision for Washington Redskins is his new hands-off ownership approach. Being praised by his best additions to the roster, GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan, Snyder gains respect from all pigskin lovers. Owners of NFL team can cripple their chance of success. The perfect example of this toxic relationship is owner Al Davis and Oakland Raiders franchise. But that’s a different story. Now Snyder is letting the football experts do what they do best, lead their team to the playoffs and brings Lombardi trophies back to the District!

With heart-felt apologies, detailed explanations of past mistakes and short sight failures, the fans might actually start forgiving Snyder for the dismal football season last year. Snyder’s interview was just what he needed. A rally of fans for Team Snyder.  Through transparency came authenticity, the basic by-product of communication that can change the attitudes of worst disgruntled hog lovers.

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.

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.