As I entered my office (aka The Sparrows) today, I noticed a cooler right next to the Jones Soda cooler labeled Naked, a brand of fruit juices. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago on Getting Naked. I thought I’d revisit that topic here.
At the time, I was preparing for a WOMMA conference at which I was speaking on managing online corporate reputations. It’s a theme I’ve tried to carry through on my site and business cards and in my practice of public relations: Honest, Open, Transparent communications (HOTcomms).
If HOTcomms were practiced by all companies and organizations, the public relations profession itself wouldn’t have its own reputation issues. When organizations use their “PR” function to obfuscate or “spin” or perform some other sleight of hand to distract their audiences from the plain, bare truth, the public simply loses trust in the organizations AND anything labeled “PR.”
When will CEOs, political candidates and others realize that eventually their disingenuous communications will come back to bite them in the butt? There may have been a time in the past when you could get away with tricking your audiences, but today there are millions of people online ready to correct the record or shed light on a topic they feel is being “spun.” Candidates espousing a particular position are reminded of previous statements or actions indicating a different viewpoint in the past. Companies hiding information related to their financials are usually discovered these days. Ask Enron or any of the hundreds of companies listed online that have tried to get away with unethical practices.
Social media — a vast online conversation surrounding just about every topic — has nearly ensured that the truth will eventually come out on just about any topic. If more than one person knows a secret, eventually they’ll talk. And that secret will quickly spread throughout the online universe, because that’s what happens with secrets. The more you try to hide something, the bigger the “aha” moment when it’s discovered.
Robert Scoble and Shel Israel wrote about being open in Naked Conversations, and Don Tapscott and David Ticoll covered similar territory in The Naked Corporation. In April 2007, Wired Magazine had a series of articles themed “Get Naked and Rule the World.” All of them pointed out that, increasingly, there are no secrets. Information “wants to be free” and quickly becomes so online.
With this new reality, businesses and organizations that will advance to the next level are those committed to transparency, adapting to consumer needs as expressed by the consumers themselves, and providing a level of unprecedented participation. There are many examples of brands that have succeeded in creating productive, engaged conversations around their brands. Those conversations are not always positive, but the willingness to allow critique results in a “double positive.” The honest, open and transparent brands get good marks for what is already positive about their brands, and they get good marks for openly discussing what’s not completely positive (provided that consumers see movement in the right direction on those negatives).
People don’t always expect perfection. But they expect not to be lied to. They can forgive a company when things don’t always go right. But they don’t forgive attempts to spin or cover up or outright lie about what hasn’t gone right. My advice always is to “out yourself before you’re outed by others.” If you allow someone else to tell your bad news before you, you’re already digging yourself out of a hole. By presenting the not-s0-great information yourself, you’re able to also tell your key audiences what you’re doing about the situation.
So, my advice back in 2007 and for 2010 is to “get naked.” While HOTcomms may not always be the way to quick success, it is fundamental to long-term success.