Make Transparency Your Friend

In my last post, I tried to define this notion of "transparency" as context for a few other posts. Smart companies understand that emerging channels demand a greater level of openness and transparency than we have historically provided to customers. They embrace the pressure to perform well in highly visible channels - using it as impetus to identify broken aspects of customer experience and fix things -- rather than continue the way they always have. They recognize the opportunity these channels present to serve customer needs, build stronger relationships and strengthen brand affinity.

A number of brands do this well today. On Twitter alone, it's easy and fun to engage with brands like @zappos @comcastcares , @southwestair @virginamerica @dell and others. Check out Best Buy CMO Barry Judge's blog and the activities at both My Starbuck's Idea and Best Buy's Idea Exchange for crowd-sourcing and customer co-creation. None of these brands claim they get it right all the time. But when they do mess up, it's refreshing to them say, say "Hey - sorry we messed up!" "We're learning." "Here's what we're doing about this problem." and "Here's how we'll make it right.". It's awesome to talk to companies who embrace responsibility as they work to help create satisfied customers. For these companies, transparency is a friend.

Unfortunately, conpanies like these are still the exception, rather than the rule in most emerging media channels. The truth is, many companies who have become active in social media (blogging, twitter, facebook, etc.) will privately admit to being terrified of having an increased level of transparency with customers.

While it's natural to have a healthy fear of increased exposure, some companies become so preoccupied with looking transparent and authentic, they lose focus completely. In an effort to use these channels to generate PR and spin, they may fail to engage as the medium demands: becoming more open and accessible; harnessing the power of the tools to bolster service and support; building relationships and driving brand advocacy. For these companies, transparency becomes the enemy.

We don't need to mention names ... Do a quick audit yourself of the posts, tweets and status updates of a few major brands. It doesn't take more than a page or two to figure out who's really tapped in to their network and who is not. Check for dialog. Check for responses, and look at how the posts are worded. Is there conversation? Resolution? Are they broadcasting 140 character versions of press releases? Do you feel like you're being force fed a marketing campaign in tiny little chunks? Are they attempting to buy followers? Are they focused on quality interactions? Do you recognize people? Does the chatter seam meaningful? It's pretty easy to tell where the brand is at. Next, ask yourself: "Would I follow this brand?" If you wouldn't -- take note of why and remember it.

This isn't just about corporations, but the agencies that serve them, as well. Ad Age did a fantastic piece this week highlighting the hypocrisy of agencies promoting Twitter. And that's just scratching the surface of a pandemic of agency hypocrisy in emerging media. In many cases, the lights are on, but nobody's home.

What surprises me is how easily companies and agencies forget that people don't necessarily want to have love affairs with brands. In truth, people care really care most about themselves and having their needs met. They care about being heard, and responded to. They want to feel valued and recognized. They want to know others care. They often seek relationships with other people who make them feel good about themselves. They love brands because they meet and exceed their expectations. These tools pose tremendous opportunity to meet those needs. However, it seems some companies think just being present is "good enough".

To be clear, being present in social media is not the same as establishing an effective presence. Broadcasting messages en mass within intimate digital channels isn't going to win coveted relationships. Shucking off customer issues, suggestions and recommendations isn't going to win friends. Ignoring people or their comments, is in fact is going to alienate customers and prospects. Yet it's happening all over within emerging media channels... as the world watches. For companies who do this -- transparency is your enemy.

Customers can see exactly where the heart of the brand lies by the focus, content and intention of their emerging media content. It's okay to approach these channels with caution... but the world is watching. Don't just stand there and spin... engage, provide service, add value, meet needs, co-create and give back. Turn that ship around and give people something positive and remarkable to discuss!


Larry said...

As usual Leigh, you get to the heart of the matter. I recently described it as social media sitting between fear and faith.

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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