In The Strategic Benefits of Transparency on Harvard Business Online’s Conversation Starter, Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent asks a question that should be top of mind for any business facing an issue – or even thinking that they might, one day, face one.
There’s a perception of risk that comes along with radical transparency. It’s the “what if” dilemma. Just before tearing open the corporate veil, most companies blush. Then blink. They think: What if we screw up? What if profits shrink? What if we have layoffs?
But what they should be asking is, “What if we never regain the public’s trust?”
At Edelman we call it the Paradox of Transparency. Essentially, stakeholders are more likely to trust you if they get an accurate picture of what you are doing – warts and all.
It’s not always easy – our own firm has been burned for a mis-step in this area and we are certainly not alone. However, the massive volume of public conversation today means that whatever your company is doing the truth will probably out. Employees blog, or talk to friends that blog.
The Internet is a giant water cooler with millions of people standing around it and exchanging news and gossip. Any company has a choice between being a credible voice in the conversation or being the opinionated loudmouth that skirts around the edge of the group trying to shout down everyone else. Trust-based relationships will always win out over communications “campaigns” that put the emphasis on spin over substance.
Yes, it’s a tough decision to make, but companies have been doing it for years. Look at Pepsi. Look at Tylenol. Ultimately it happens when companies think “If I were a stakeholder in this company, how would I wish to be treated?”
One issue that I face all the time is the reluctance of clients to share information that is regarded as “confidential” with their communications team. There seems to be a belief that anything you say to the PR folks is going to end up in tomorrow’s newspapers. Of course, all companies have information that they need to keep confidential. But that’s not the same as saying as saying that companies need to keep all information confidential.
Personally, I don’t like it when I beleive I’m being lied to and I don’t trust people who I beleive are less than honest with me. I don’t know anyone who feels any differently.
So why to so many companies seem to think that they can get away with it?