In the olden days, when people lived in small towns and everyone knew their neighbors and everything about their neighbors, there was a natural understanding about the value of reputation. Decisions were made based on word of mouth. Whether your banker would lend you money or whether you would seriously consider dating Charlie the Pharmacist’s son, depended on the information that was socially communicated.
And that’s the way it is today for brands. Every day, more stories become public and are shared on Facebook and on all digital and social media. As individuals, as brands, as employees and as business owners, we are potential recipients of the good and victims of the bad information that is out there about us. Just like in those olden days, sometimes there is mean-spirited gossip that’s just wrong and we have to deal with it. Sometimes we screw up and hope we can overcome it with an apology and better behavior in the future. And on the rare occasion when we do something truly exceptional, it can spread like wildfire.
If you’re a company engaged in bad deeds, whether it is manufacturing clothing in a sweatshop or making illegal trades in a bank, or including a cancer-causing food ingredient in a snack food, those big, juicy stories are just waiting for one person to discover and share.
There are two ways to live with the reality of transparency:
- Imagine that you are immune. Continue to behave badly on purpose or by not being fully aware of what is going on in your business. Ignore, hide or spin the sketchy stuff. For a while, this may work, but when it comes to light (and it most likely will) the bigger and more successful you are, the more viral the information will be.
- Know that everything you do, even if it is only known to even two or three people in the world has the potential to see the light. Don’t just cover your butt. Don’t just not be bad. Start thinking about what you can do to be the company, the employee, or even the individual that people will admire and trust. Because the company that people admire and trust does a lot of things without expecting anything. They are helpful, kind, generous and charitable. That’s how you get transparency to work in your advantage. And one more thing:
Do. Not. Ask. What. The. ROI. Is. For. Everything.