Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | February 25, 2009

Welcome!

Hi, I’m Renee and this blog examines the importance of implementing transparency and authenticity in social media. We all know that trust and honesty is crucial in building quality relationships, both online and off. Join me as I try to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of transparency in online social media!

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Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | April 6, 2009

WHAT is the Future of Social Media and Relationships?

Social media is opening up doors for interaction between businesses and consumers that could have never been anticipated 20 years ago. The change is upon us, but what does the future look like? It seems that the demand for transparency and authenticity will only grow more strong. A study in Sales and Marketing Management was conducted to gauge sales and marketing executives feelings and predictions for one-to-one marketing by 2020.

It seems that overall, the consensus of the study is that there will be a strong movement toward relationship building and customer trust. 78% predict that building authentic relationships will be more important than developing new products in the future of marketing. Customers will continue to have increasing control of brands. This flip-flop in control reminds one of the real estate phrase, a “buyer’s market.” Consumers are savvy, have more product choices than ever before, and social media has contributed to their ability to be more informed and engaged.

The survey participants placed a very high value on customer trust. 84% agreed that the main objective of marketing will be to build and maintain customer trust. Clearly (pardon the pun), transparency will be a key factor in a future based on trust. As consumers become increasingly sophisticated in their purchasing behaviors, authentic companies will be the ones to beat out the competition.

Joe Pulizzi compiled the Junta42 Top 42 Bloggers predictions for social media and content marketing in 2009. There were a wide variety of responses with many of the respondents discussing specific web tools and tactics, but some expressed the theme of more genuine relationships. Paul Gillin predicted a move toward more openness in corporate blogs. Tammy Wise suggested companies provide more useful content and relevant information. As I mentioned in my post Where are There Opportunities for Transparency/Authenticity, both of these responses support the goal of transparent, authentic communications.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | April 2, 2009

WHO is a Social Media Leader in Authentic/Transparent Communications?

In my last post, I examined transparency and authenticity from a broader point of view outside of online social media. While new social media tools may be contributing to this move toward authenticity, I believe there are also powerful societal motivations behind the movement to more open and honest communication. In the following video from Rich Harwood, President of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, he reminds us of society’s everyday practice of manufacturing authenticity. Controlled messages have been the norm to which we have become accustomed. He acknowledges the difficulty leaders may have in building relationships through trust in an environment of skepticism and distrust.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It is important that these leaders step forward, whether it is in a political or public service arena, or in business. Social media needs authentic business leaders to prove themselves.

This morning on The View they mentioned a project by OneTouch, the Johnson & Johnson company that makes blood glucose monitoring systems for people with diabetes. It’s called The Global Diabetes Handprint, and it was inspired by an individual who created his own social networking site as a supportive community of members living with diabetes. The Global Diabetes Handprint is a place where anyone who feels affected by diabetes can share their experiences by uploading an image of their hand with a word written on their palm that describes their feelings about diabetes.

OneTouch did not come up with this idea on their own, but they openly credit it to the creator and he tells his story in a video on the site. The creator, Manny Hernandez, is probably thrilled OneTouch picked up on his cause, considering they are donating $5 to diabetes charities for every uploaded hand. This project is an example of how companies can use social media to be leaders in authentic communications. The way that a corporation has reached out to one individual for a great cause is in turn creating emotional connections between OneTouch and those affected by diabetes. I am truly convinced that OneTouch has a genuine concern for the well being of these people. It almost seems strange to refer to them as customers because OneTouch has taken its communications past the basic transactional relationship. They are forming a bond with them, much as Johnson & Johnson has done with customers throughout their history. Now social media has provided tools for them to express their commitment to their customers in a global and interactive environment.

LifeScan, Inc., the J&J company that produces OneTouch, also has a page on their website titled Transparency, where they provide monthly breakdowns and allocations of their financial contributions viewable by the public. Johnson & Johnson is a great example of a leader in authenticity and transparency.

I created my own Global Diabetes Handprint. If you don’t have a photo to upload, the site lets you create one digitally. This word describes how I feel about a young relative of mine who has lived with diabetes since very early childhood.
diabetes-hand

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 28, 2009

WHY is This Change Happening?

The move toward transparency and authenticity in corporate communication is part of a larger societal movement. It is no secret that public relations and government are two fields that tend to be questioned for their credibility and ethical practices. This is understandable, considering their potential for abusing power. Historically, we have always valued the importance of holding those in power accountable for their actions. The current combination of new media technologies and incidents of corporate greed and government secrecy has led to a yearning for a more ethical and egalitarian society.

Micah Sifry in Columbia Journalism Review writes about this evolving era of holding organizations accountable for their actions in A See Through Society. He refers to the instant, participatory new media environment as the “World Live Web” — a world of observers, actively reporting on everything around them. In this type of bottom-up communication environment, the truth is difficult to hide.

The concept of transparency in public affairs is nothing new; it has been evident in the thoughts of various philosophers throughout time. Lars Christensen and Roy Langer writing for the International Communication Association in Public Relations and the Strategic Use of Transparency: Consistency, Hypocrisy, and Corporate Change note that its ideals have appeared in writings of the classical Greek, Immanuel Kant, and those protesting against the secrecy of the Catholic Church. Citizens view the increasing availability of information as a step toward a society that is just, moral, and functions more efficiently. The authors mention a current example of citizen watchdogs in Transparency International. The organization fights against corruption in areas of politics, business, education, the judicial system, and every avenue that effects society.

Christensen and Langer also assert that the implementation of IMC practices by corporate communicators has also played a part in evolving communications to value transparency and symmetry. IMC requires building relationships on mutual trust and respect. Conversation and debate in such a two-way system can not be characterized by an uneven division of power.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 27, 2009

WHAT are the Benefits of Less Controlled Communications?

New social media is characterized by conversation, participation, feedback, and consumer created content. For this reason, organizations can no longer expect to carefully control messages online. Transparency and authenticity has become less of a choice and more of a result of the innovative and evolving nature of online interactions. August Ray’s blog post, Social Media and Brand Control: A Historical Perspective, suggests that social media doesn’t require letting go of your brand. Instead, it reinforces the historical reality of sharing control with consumers.

A key component of transparent and authentic communication is encouraging and participating in dialogue. Sharing control of a brand involves two-way conversations.

Conversation among consumers:Viral Marketing
The benefits of word of mouth marketing and consumers as company advocates can be multiplied by the speed and connectivity of online interactions. This article, Psst…Viral Marketing Not a Bad Disease to Have from Natural Foods Merchandiser explains the benefits of “tryvertising” as a way to plant the seed of viral marketing online. Product reviews and ratings shift control of marketing to consumers whose perceived credibility is higher than traditional advertising. Niche audiences can be the most effective advocates because they tend to be a sharing community of individuals who are passionate about their interests. Hoback highlights the natural foods industry as such a candidate of a niche audience.

Conversation with consumers: Quality customer service should be accessible, with a sense of urgency and a cohesive message. But less control in this area also means trusting employees by allowing them to make informed decisions when settling complaints or offering assistance on a case by case basis. The result will be improved customer service that is tailored to the customer’s needs. Less controlled communications with consumers may also include increased opportunity for feedback coming from alternate channels such as blogs and forums. Feedback can then be leveraged to make changes within an organization to improve products and operations.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 21, 2009

HOW Can My Organization Be Authentic?

Authenticity is not something that can be learned, and it’s not possible to “portray” yourself as authentic. Think about the way someone may act on a first date. They may dress differently, act differently, be nervous, and fumbling to present themselves in a way that will hopefully impress their date. A good piece of advice given to blind-daters might be, “just be yourself.” This advice can be applied to corporations involved in social media. We have all met the person who comes across as phony because they are trying too hard to impress. This blog post from the head of social media for Ford Motor Company pokes fun at the idea of teaching authenticity. As I mentioned in an earlier post, you can’t fake authenticity. After the second and third dates, the real you starts to be exposed.

In a previous post, I mentioned the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Their code of conduct and fundamental principles outline the new guidelines accepted by the Federal Trade Commission and the online community for acceptable conduct. This is excellent material that values honesty above all, and a responsibility to respect consumer relationships.

Authenticity is not easy. It can’t be fabricated, created or constructed. In fact, it goes against many of the accepted modes of operation within in a company which serve to protect the corporation and manage the brand. Joel Postman, in his book SocialCorp, acknowledges what he calls “dark forces that are conspiring” and suggests that every department must work in sync to be authentic. Even if corporate communicators understand the importance of authenticity, other employees may be unknowingly working against their efforts. From my personal experience, customer service is often an area where this may occur.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 20, 2009

WHEN is it Critical to be Transparent?

It is required to have an authentic/transparent presence online at all times. But there are at least two current instances in which those characteristics are especially critical. The economic downturn we are experiencing combined with other unpredictable crises has led to a time of uncertainty and anxiety for many. This is precisely the time to open the lines of communication to keep publics informed.

This article by Alison Davis in Communication World focuses on being honest with employees at a time when they may be fearful and concerned about the effects of the financial crisis. Davis suggests that implementing social media tools can be a solution to employees’ desire to be informed. Internal communications cannot be neglected during such a time, even though distractions may lead communicators to shift focus to the outside environment. The low cost of using social media communications is another benefit for businesses with tight budgets.

trulia_logoThe housing crisis is another hot topic compounding our economic woes. Real estate company Trulia’s online efforts are truly commendable. They won the 2008 People’s Voice Webby Award for their website, which is a unique user experience for both buyers and sellers. The site employs a plethora of new media tools such as blogs, links to the company’s Flickr galleries, Facebook page, YouTube videos, and up to date tweets on Twitter. There is even a Trulia app for the iPhone and a GPS home search for your car.

I’m impressed by the complete honesty of Trulia’s employee bloggers, who are meeting the current challenges head on and engaging clients in conversations. This post, Second Wave of Foreclosures – Look Out Baby Boomers in the Northwest! is an example of how being transparent means reporting both good news and bad.

trulia

Trulia Voices is an online community that connects agents and buyers/sellers in an environment similar to social networking sites where agents have searchable profile pages. The site also has forums, Q&A from the pros, and even more blogs! Here is a short video that explains more about Trulia Voices.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 9, 2009

WHERE are the Opportunities for Transparency/Authenticity?

I thought I would use this post to note some tips for one of my favorite social media arenas – blogs.  Blogs encourage participants to create a genuine and trustworthy presence online. Here are three things to consider when it comes to transparency and authenticity in blogging.

– Identification – who are you and why are you blogging?
– Community – with whom can you build trust and relationships?
– Valuable Content – this means not just chatting about how great things are going in a carefully constructed message (triple checked by PR and board members) but being open and honest and offering something new and insightful to readers.

I wrote about the importance of identification in a previous post, so i will move on to community. Blogging involves becoming part of a community. There are millions of blogs out there, and it is an opportunity to connect. It’s called the World Wide Web for a reason. Check out Turkey Hill’s unlikely ice cream blog and their blogroll. Links include the dairy industry, ice cream photographers, recipes, ice cream shops, and even vegan ice cream fans. Establishing relationships with other bloggers over time creates credibility.  For Larry Weber’s book Marketing to the Social Web, he interviews Halley Suitt, blogging pioneer, whose advice includes exercising strong involvement in reading and engaging other blogs. It’s not enough to post your own blog and sit back and wait. Suitt insists the best method is to research who is blogging and what they are blogging about.

Valuable content – Annie Teich, writing for the publishing industry in Using Company Blogs to Win Over Decision Makers, makes some excellent suggestions on creating content with your audience in mind. Blogs are not the place for puff pieces or pushing products. They are an opportunity to build relationships and perhaps create customers who will later be advocates for your business.

No one likes being played for a fool. That’s why it causes such a controversy when someone is revealed as a fake online. The most basic concept in regards to being open and honest in social media is to identify yourself as you truly are. There are many reasons to be truthful online, the first and most obvious being that your deception will inevitably be found out. Trust me, there will be backlash and damage done. Let’s just look at some examples of companies who have tried too hard to control their image and messages.

walmart_logoPR issues are nothing new to Wal-mart, a company that never seems to get it, no matter how many crises they endure. Wal-mart is now infamous for its attempt at “astroturfing” by paying a happy couple to blog and travel the country in their RV to visit Wal-marts. Their interviews and reports with Wal-mart employees seem like carefully constructed commentary designed to shed the company in an angelically favored light. The blog, entitled Wal-Marting Across America, was later revealed to be the work of PR firm Edelman, on behalf of Wal-Mart. This article in Business Week takes an objective stance, but the blogosphere and industry professionals condemned Wal-Mart for such obvious deceptive practices.

whole-food-logo-website-bbaAnother example is Whole Foods’ CEO, John Mackey who posted comments under a false identity on Yahoo! bulletin boards. He bashed their competitor, Wild Oats, in an attempt to lower the company’s stock prices before purchasing the smaller company. Those who read the posts over a course of seven years became suspicious of his online identity and he was revealed. The scandal led to Mackey being tied up in legal issues with the Federal Trade Commission.

Not only are transparency and authenticity ethic responsibilities, they are legal responsibilities. The FTC has taken steps to insist companies reveal their true intentions in word-of-mouth marketing. That includes online areas like blogs, forums, Twitter, social networking sites, and other social media.

I will discuss the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and their ethical guidelines in an upcoming post.

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | March 1, 2009

WHO Can We Learn From?

Just like any new technology, social media is moving past the innovator stage of adoption and is well in to the realm of early adopters and early majority. This means that companies looking to dip their feet into the water have quite a few examples to use as reference for good practices.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, fear of losing control has kept some companies out of the game. But research turns up companies like Jet Blue, IBM, and Microsoft in this video from John Havens and Shel Holtz that talks about the struggles and successes of companies who take the risk to be more transparent in their communications. Listen near the end of the video for an ironic instance where Microsoft’s executives let an email slip to the writer of a Wired magazine article on transparency and Microsoft’s blogging practices. The email, intended to be internal, was to coach the bloggers on questions they would get from Wired! It’s an interesting duality that exists in corporate culture – transparency vs. control. Vodpod videos no longer available.

Lauren McKay wrote this great article on transparency with some specific illustrations from Dove, Progressive, and Comcast. Progressive has differentiated themselves by being fully transparent in the area of pricing. Customers have gained trust in them by being able to compare rates across the insurance industry.

I loathe cable company Comcast. I’ve had issues with their customer service so many times it’s ridiculous. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that they knew their customer relations were struggling and decided to do something about it. I now have a slightly different perspective on their ability to build relationships. If only I had known that they were Twittering. Ha! That’s another lesson – if your company decides to lift the curtain and give customers more access, let them know!This graphic, from the McKay article helps spell out some instances of WHAT is transparency, WHEN and WHERE is it used?

What is Transparency?

What is Transparency?

Posted by: Renee Lazer Bayliss | February 26, 2009

WHAT is the Big Deal with Transparency?

It’s a buzz word. We’ve all heard it before. Everyone is trying to be “transparent.” They’re even saying it about the new presidency. It is a time of change both in politics and in the online world. People are demanding the truth, and transparency is the key.

Let’s consider some less vague synonyms of the word from Thesaurus.com: candid, sincere, honest, and straightforward. Sounds like a good concept; so wouldn’t all companies hope to be sincere with their customers? I think they do, but there seems to be some issues among executives who fear letting go of their brands online. And it’s not only the customer’s comments they fear, even employees are joining the conversation.

A company’s success or failure depends on the support of its publics – its customers, investors, employees, and the communities in which it is a member. To build this support, it must first build relationships founded on trust. Shel Holtz describes six areas (leaders, employees, values, culture, business strategy, and results – both good and bad) in which companies should be transparent in order to foster good relationships.

Consumers are quickly losing faith in the corporate world. But there is a way to combat their growing skeptical attitudes. An article in Advertising Age suggests that transparency is the new corporate social responsibility. Corporations have to be responsible and publics are insisting on holding companies accountable. Transparency is really beneficial for all parties involved.  It’s a system of give and take, and customers, investors, and employees will reward companies who implement this mode of operation.

Transparency is scary because it means showing vulnerability and exposing both the good and the bad. Fortunately, people are forgiving creatures. They appreciate genuineness. It’s better to admit mistakes than to deny or cover them up. Isn’t that how the “real” world operates anyways?

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