The world is becoming far more transparent for those who are curious enough and the ability to scrutinise anything is becoming easier. Some think it is limited to politics and government, they need to wake up and google their own name and get past the first few pages (unless of course you are famous or infamous). This scrutiny is not just being carried out by journalists, but by bloggers, customers, staff, friends and families. Even potential friends and lovers are checking you out, obviously literally, but also online.
In the past companies felt they could get away with ‘discrepancies’ between what their marketing says and what they do and/or have created. I am not talking about the ‘disasters’ but the translation of marketing/sales promises into actual customer and user experience. (Or the promise of HR and managers to new employees.. or the promise of employee to company.)
Who does marketing?
There are some that believe marketing is done in marketing departments. Most intelligent people know this is bollocks: it’s done in every department of your business. Every person goes home and talks or leaves an impression (even through what they dont say) about your boss, their boss, the products and services. Every person the company fires goes out and tells people if not with words, with body language what they thought of that company. The sales people, leaders and strategy people are the ones who usually over promise to get you through the door. Once through the door its up to the account managers, customer service people, the technical support who – in most cases are the people that define the actual brand (customer experience) for the company. Yet they are often the ones who are not as well paid or given respect. And of course there are the people who actually make what you sell, whether they be software developers, factory staff, production artists, they all leave their imprint on the user experience. How consistent do you think they are in telling the whole world what the company is about? In the old days (before Web 2.0) it was easy to cover up ‘discrepancies’ and pretend companies are wholly wonderful places to work, but the reality is that most humans are flawed in some fashion as are the communities and organisations we create. I believe the best option in this world is to be honest and transparent. (Just to be clear, I am not advocating transparency with your new hot sauce: we do after all live in a competitive world.)
Lessons from political campaigning
There is one kind of marketing / campaigning / communication in which you cannot afford ‘discrepancies’ and that is political campaigning. Everyone has to be ‘on board’ and saying the same thing, or else the competition or journalists will pick it up and shove it in your face (if you are lucky). This does not mean people working on political campaigns do not have differences of opinions – they most certainly do – and in most cases they have strongly held beliefs (except the consultants <– joking.. sort of). I think they have a couple things that help them survive their differences of opinion, including:
- Shared values and principles and possibly vision.
- A clear end to the campaign
- Competition or an ‘enemy’ to blame for all the ill in the world
- Directly connected with ‘consumers’ i.e. electorate. Has your politician crashed today? Please ring technical support..
- Newspaper and journalists who make their money by finding your ‘discrepancies’
- Bloggers and activists who find ‘discrepancies’ for fun, for belief or for hate.
- Limited funds, often transparent sources.
Lessons from the technology world
The technology sector is constantly striving for faster and more efficient ways to communicate, examples include rumour sites (www.macrumors.com), Blogs (Tech crunch), linkedin updates, facebook updates, twitter etc. Technology people are often the first bunch of people onto new technology, curious to see how it works. They have little fear to try out technology often will talk about technology and the people that create it. Also technologist form strong online communities to support each other in acquiring new knowledge. For example, if someone leaves a job in the technology market you will ‘hear’ about it or easily find it out, whether they be from a large company or just a startup. During the recession (2008 -2010) there were even sites counting the number of jobs been lost by tech staff. Information travels fast e.g. status update or job change, and often before the marketing or communication department is in the know. Most good communicators know that the absence of information will give space for rumours to build and/or for anticipation to build.
Some companies do very well because of the 24 information need for speedy communications, others through the notable absence of information i.e. Apple
- Put the information out first
- Remember to back your statements up, with depth and evidence. Remember before the days of twitter and click polls?
Transparency and extra free data is adding to depth of conversation..
Some corporate websites try to hide the numbers of staff that work for the company, especially startups. Be warned that people can use linkedIn or Jigsaw to see who actually works for a company. Other tools have ‘encouraged’ transparency LinkedIN Company profiles allow you to see how many VPs does a business have, you can see who has joined and who has left. This is useful to see how high up the chain you have actually got.
Your resumes are in multiple places, are they consistent?
How many places is your resume? A word doc right, a pdf, LinkedIN, Facebook, and couple recruitment websites, what about the ones recruiters have got, what about the organisations you have worked for in the past? Consistency of what you say about yourself is important to gain trust but can be difficult when you multi-talented and can sell yourself to different markets or into different roles.
I wonder sometimes what the real impact of showing our ‘relationship status’ is on Facebook or other social networking tool. For a secure relationship, it’s not a problem, but new ones? Hmmm – it is only ‘official’ when it says so on facebook?! It goes without saying (but I am going to say it) that inconsistency in personal and professional relationships can cause problems.
Archive sites or cached info
It’s worth noting that if you make a mistake online it will be archived or cached somewhere on the web, if left for any period of time. I think most cultures are forgiving of making a mistake, many are not forgiving of covering up mistakes, however.
What can you do?
- Have clear vision, values and principles for the organisation
- Be transparent where possible, dont hide..
- Consistency with brand values, organisation values and leadership behaviour e.g. If your leader bullies, senior managers will copy as will middle managers and staff will be bullied. Is that the culture you want?
- Honesty from leaders and sales, rather than leaving accounts/customer or technical support to clear up the mess
- HR and Management appraisal and review mechanisms reflect the values and principles
- Encourage lateral communications and breakdown silos
- Not see technical support or account managers or customer service as an afterthought
If you’re unsure what people can see about you online, check out pipl.com. You might be a little taken aback by what you find.