Transparency webinar: Answers to your questions

Posted on May 22, 2009 6:35 pm by | Social Media | Transparency

Warning: Long post follows!

I conducted a webinar on Wednesday for IABC, sponsored by Thomson Reuters, on “Tactical Transparency” which, not coincidentally, is the title of my latest book.

The on-demand recording of the session is now available; a free registration is required.

I promised to cover the questions that were asked during the session as a blog post. Here goes:

What are the first steps you’d suggest in getting buy-in from senior management to increase transparency with our customers/employees?

Since the mandate for transparency must come from the top, getting their buy-in is critical. In fact, they must make a firm commitment to transparency; otherwise, the initiative is likely to fail. You need to show them that being more transparent is in their own interest, that it will help them sleep better at night.

The best way to start is to demonstrate the consequences of failing to be transparent. Offer up case studies of companies that tried to operate behind closed doors and organizations that hunkered down and offered little when stakeholders were clamoring for information.

Then, show them the fortunes of companies that have adopted a culture of transparency; feel free to use examples from the book, which are plentiful!

Ultimately, you have to speak their language—the language of the bottom line—and offer indisputable evidence that transparency will have a positive impact. Showing companies from your organization’s peer group is always a useful approach.

As for adopting social media, you’ll find most answers in this recording.

How do you prevent hackers or people who want to project a negative image of your business from sabotaging your social media site?

“Hackers” usually refers to people who can hack into your system and change the contents of your site. The precautions you would take for a social media effort are no different from those you’d take for a traditional website. Keep up with the latest software versions (many of the new versions from WordPress, Expression Engine, and others are released specifically to address security issues) and work with IT to make sure your content is as safe as it can be.

As for those who want to project a negative image of your business, always remember that they’re fully capable of doing this on sites other than your own. As Cindi Bigelow (of Bigelow Tea) said (quoted in the presentation), “People are going to talk about you and your products, so why not provide them an environment where people can talk in front of you and not behind you? I???d rather you yelled at me directly than behind my back; this way I can at least explain where I???m coming from.???

How do you handle a situation when it is a family organization? (A famous figure) recently announced a movie deal about his father with (a major motion picture production company). His siblings say they are stakeholders and were not consulted. He has been very silent on most of the public battles. Is this the best way to handle this?

The impact of silence on your reputation is pretty much the same whether you’re a private organization or a public company. You should point out those consequences. There’s a history of organizations and individuals that lost in the court of public opinion because they remained silent, or offered terse, fact-based responses.

Do you think we will see companies creating specific jobs, or perhaps entire departments devoted to social media? e.g. a job title like Social Media Communications Specialist, or a Social Media Monitoring Department?

We’re already seeing it. Pepsi hired Bonin Bough from Weber Shandwick to coordinate social media company-wide. At GM it’s Christopher Barger. At Ford it’s Scott Monty. Coca-Cola has announced an office of social media within its marketing department. And these are just a few examples of what is a growing trend.

What avenues/seminars/etc. do you suggest for a classically-trained PR pro to quickly come up to speed about utilizing social media?

There’s a list of upcoming social media conferences at TheNewPR wiki. And I have a list of books, blogs, podcasts, and other resources here on my blog.

Is there, in your view, a difference between tactical transparency and “strategic” transparency? Is transparency really more of a strategic imperative?

Strategic planning starts with a goal: What is it you want to achieve? What needle do you want to move and how far do you want to move it? Once you know your goal, determine the strategy you’ll execute in order to achieve the goal. Strategies are systematic plans of action. You should develop measurable objectives to achieve the strategy. Tactics are the tools and processes you’ll put in place in support of achieving the objectives.

So, let’s say you determine a strategy will be to encourage more open discussion between company leaders and key stakeholders (e.g., investors). You set an objective of four senior leaders being available for conversation. Another objective is to produce 20 inputs from stakeholder audiences each month. You might set a tactic of establishing a group blog for those executives, through which the comments (and tweets linking to the blog) can help you measure the amount of engagement.

How much of a competitive advantage does transparency provide a business? Today? Tomorrow?

If there were no competitive advantage to behaving transparently, you can be sure I wouldn’t be recommending companies do it! The advantage is based on increased trust and credibility in the eyes of your critical publics, including investors, regulators, legislators, the media, and customers. Consider JetBlue, which could have failed to recover from its February 2007 debacle as customers lost confidence in the airline. CEO Dave Neeleman’s personal apology, delivered over YouTube and other social channels, restored confidence and led to full flights and higher profitability.

Increased investment, greater sales, not to mention customers who want to do business with you are all the ultimate payoff for adopting a culture of transparency.

How do you monitor what your employees are saying in the social media place - how do you do damage control when an employee gets something totally wrong, gives out info that was NOT supposed to be shared, etc.

Monitoring all employees is likely to take way, way more time than it’s worth. If you’re already monitoring for references to your company, anything your employees say will be included. If somebody says something particularly heinous, odds are someone will point it out to you. But you only want to take one of two actions:

  • Address employees who violate the policy
  • Make adjustments to your internal communications to ensure employees are equipped with the information they need to tell the company’s story accurately

How great is the risk of an employee trashing the company in a blog or YouTube video, and what should be the organization’s response?

The risk is directly related to how well (or poorly) employees are treated. (By the way, this is also the leading determinant in how external audiences perceive your commitment to corporate social responsibility, more than environmental stewardship or corporate philanthropy.)

Of course, there are very effective ways to mitigate the risk, the best of which is to implement a clear and understandable policy, communicate it well and often, and enforce it.

Everyone John C. Havens (my co-author) and I interviewed for the book told us the same thing: The lawyers had concerns about a variety of consequences of employee blogging, but none of those fears were ever realized.

how do you determine what info is “people’s right to know” info versus info that should not/does not need to be publicized?

You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter of “right to know,” it’s a question of access to the information stakeholders need in order to make informed decisions about the organization. The question, then, is what information should not be shared because it is not in the organization’s best interest to share it. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, for example, told us (in an interview for the book) that, because Thomas Nelson is a privately-held company, he is not obliged to release any financial information. He does release his sales, though, because he can think of no good reason not to and making more information available is better than less. However, disclosing his profits would give his competitors an advantage he doesn’t want them to have, so he has determined that it is in the company’s best interest to keep that information private.

How do you get execs over the mindset “well, it’s all very good to have social media, but we don’t have the time or money to assign people to monitor everything”?

Monitoring isn’t a full-time job, particularly if you contract with a monitoring service. The cost is very reasonable for many of these services (like CustomScoop, Radian6, Social Radar, and Spiral 16) and you’ll stay on top of all references to your organization and related topics by reviewing regularly-delivered reports. You should also set up some listening posts internally, but this is a one-time task. Monitoring the listening posts is a matter of reviewing new input for about five minutes two or three times a day. You’ll find a great process for setting up listening posts here.

What major change globally as result of social media use do you predict will occur in the next 5 years?


It’s a fool’s game to try to predict the next shiny object, but I’m confident that there will be more people engaged in social media, more people creating content, more social networks (and greater volumes of networking), and increased scrutiny of organizations by stakeholders with the time and interest to do it.

And people will be engaged from more places, notably their mobile phones, the logical evolution of the computer.

A fellow manager thinks our company should establish guidelines for employees who use social media to communicate for, or about, our company. Any thoughts on that?

As noted above, policies are critical. You’ll find links to a number of company blogging policies on The New PR wiki. The best comprehensive social computing policy I’ve ever seen comes from IBM.

Do you have a sense of how much traditional media (press and analysts) are turning to social media outlets for news about a company?

With increasing regularity. There have been a number of studies that ask reporters about their use of social media when identifying topics to write about as well as when research stories they’re already covering. You can dig into studies like the one conducted by Brodeur & Partners and Marketwire that concluded…

Over half of reporters we surveyed said they spent more than an hour per day with online news sources and blogs. In fact, nearly half (47%) of all technology reporters and over one-third (38%) of political reporters said they blogged as part of their reporting. At the same time, a majority of these same reporters across all beats said blogs and social media were having a negative impact on the quality and accuracy of reporting.

Another great study was commissioned by the Society for New Communications Research SNCR, with Don Middleberg conducting the research. Early results are consistent with the Brodeur findings.

Very interesting points about leadership and employee roles. In light of that, what do you see the role of communicators as in the dynamic you describe?

First, communicators will continue doing just what they’re doing now. The need for good, authoritative communication isn’t going to vanish as social media rises. In addition, however, communicators will guide organizations’ use of social media to ensure they achieve business objectives; this will be a facilitator’s role, as well as a counselor on various aproaches the company might consider. Communicators will also engage in social media on behalf of the organization, as communicators like those mentioned above (Christopher Barger, Scott Monty) and others (like the entire communications team at Dell) are doing.

Is there a point in having a blog without a comments function? Obviously it’s a monologue versus a dialogue.

This is a question that comes up often and is debated heavily. One way to look at a blog is to focus on the underlying application. You can turn comments off and it’s still a blogging application. However, when you talk about a blog as a communication channel, it usually denotes a two-way (or multi-directional) vehicle. As far as I’m concerned, a blog without comments is a column produced using blog software; the conversation is the whole point of having a blog.

Do you have examples of B2B companies using social media?

You mean like IBM and Oracle? Frankly, I think social media makes even more sense with B2B companies than it does with B2C companies. B2B is already all about relationships, but building relationships with consumers of bathroom tissue, say, or paper clips is far more difficult.

There are communities that have been developed as social media venues for B2B, like those offered by Social Media Today. There are videos intended for B2B audiences like the famous toilet video on YouTube. Plenty of B2B companies have tapped into blogging and even podcasting. Ernst & Young uses Facebook for recruiting. Boeing has a few blogs. ArcelorMittal, a minerals and mining company, has a presence in Second Life. Accenture has blogs. The list goes on…

Can you please provide the names of the podcast and societies online?

By “the podcast,” I’m guessing you’re referring to mine, “For Immediate Release.

By “societies,” I’m guessing you mean the Society for New Communication Reserach (SNCR.

If you were looking for something else, leave a comment and I’ll add more information to this answer.

What evaluation metrics are available?

The question of measuring social media is one that comes up again and again. The best resource to which I can point you is a presentation by Katie Paine, who is the leading light in the field of PR measurement of any kind. She has a firm grasp on the notion of measuring social media. Here’s a presentation Katie gives on the topic. In addition, I’d recommend this e-book on social media measurement from the school of journalism and communications at the University of Oregon.

A lot of other people are delving into this topic; a Google search will produce a gold mine of information.

Reputation is more easily, and traditionally, measured. I’d look at the Reputation Index for more information, available at The Reputation Institute.

Let me know if you’re looking for information on metrics that I haven’t covered here.

How do you prevent a gradual decline in posting or participation by employees?

This one’s easy: If there’s genuine conversation and knowledge exchange taking place, if people are getting information faster and networking beyond the normal confines of their departments and work teams, you shouldn’t have a problem. The people who are enthusiastic about participating will continue to do so. However, you can’t force people to engage who aren’t inclined to, so tap into those who already have the desire.

One thing you should consider, though, is to spotlight employees who are actively engaged in a way that truly benefits the organization. Recognition not only honors those doing good work, but inspires others to emulate that behavior. (“Oh, this is what people get recognized for around here? Then that’s what I’ll do.”)

What are your suggestions for convincing old-school bankers that transparency will help the organization?

Well, you could always start by pointing out the good that opacity has done the financial services industry lately.

Beyond that, please use the advice offered in response to the second question.

Where can I find the ROI business case you just referred to?

Charlene Li developed this for Forrester while she was still working there. You’ll find it at the Forrester site, where it’ll set you back $749.

What and how do you think skype will come into play with companies presently & for the future?
Re: Travel/Tourism/Hospitality industry in particular?

In terms of transparency, Skype isn’t a factor, nor is it much of a factor in social media (although it’s a godsend to podcasters who can’t be in the same room at the same time). In general, VOIP (Voice Over IP) will continue to grab market share from POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).

From a nonprofit organization that serves children: Is there a point in having a blog that does not allow for comments? a monologue versus a dialogue?

Take a look at the answer to the question eight questions above yours. The short answer is, “No, generally not.”

Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree or have anything to add!

How important is it that business monitor Social Media? And then, plan for engagement and response to customers, business, the government, etc?

Monitoring is vital. The speed with which a message is amplified online is unprecedented, and if you aren’t monitoring what people are saying, you’ll miss the opportunity to identify issues before they become crises. Once an issue has been identified, engagement is the best way to address it. You don’t need your own blog, Facebook group, or podcast to have conversations with those who care enough about the issue (or your organization) to talk about it. At the very least, you cannot let inaccuracies or misstatements of fact go unchallenged. It’s best, though, to tell the organization’s story in conversation with those who have raised the company, and to do it at an individual, human level. As for planning for such engagement, this happens at two levels. One is to determine who will speak for the company authoritatively on the range of issues that could arise. The other is to educate employees on issues so they can speak unofficially within their networks. As the CEO of Commonwealth Bank told Richard Edelman at the World Economic Forum in Davos, employees are his secret communication weapon.



  • 1.I always find it amusing that companies not familiar with social media are most interested in monitoring what their employees are saying online. How much time and effort to they spent monitoring email or phone conversations? Online conversations are no different.

    If you've got a decent communications policy, it should be updated to include blogs, discussion boards, social networks, or whatever else is coming along. It's about human behavior, not about the sites & tools. By giving employees good guidelines, it's easy to let them go do their thing within those boundaries.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

    Scott Monty | May 2009

  • 2.Shel,

    I agree monitoring and measurement are becoming increasingly important as social media starts to have more of an impact on how a company's brand and products are perceived.

    If you're interested in taking a look at a new social media analytics service, we'd love to give you a demo of Sysomos' MAP and Heartbeat products, which provide not only monitoring and measurement but insight into sentiment, the key influencers and geo-demographics.

    Mark Evans | May 2009 | Toronto

  • 3.Hi Shel,
    It was great meeting you again at NewComm Forums!

    Monitoring online conversations is easier than ever. Analyzing the conversations in an efficient manner makes the strategy needed much more apparent. And I totally agree that B2B org's now have all the options that B2C's had. We're all people!

    And there's no reason to not be monitoring. We have the Freemium version of Techrigy SM2 which many are using for their business needs.

    Chief Community Officer, Techrigy

    Connie Bensen | May 2009 | Minnesota

  • 4.Your story was featured in Jeqq! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it:

  • 5.Shel,
    Thanks for listing Spiral16 among the social media monitoring tools out there. Yet another great post.


    Whitney Mathews | May 2009 | Kansas City

  • 6.I always find it amusing that companies not familiar with social media are most interested in monitoring what their employees are saying online. How much time and effort to they spent monitoring email or phone conversations? Online conversations are no different.

    morfeus123 | June 2009 | USA

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