Posts Tagged ‘transparency’
Although my blog is technically on “hiatus,” I felt this post was too important to not post it here (versus my digital marketing notebook on Posterous).
I am still thinking about the direction my blog will be heading, but I know one thing for sure…it will include a lot more analysis, testing, and less opinion.
As a marketer, testing is at the heart of what we do (or should do) and I for one have been lax when it comes to testing social media. Without testing all aspects of social media, we are, unfortunately, arguing from ignorance.
The first test: Authenticity, transparency… and trust.
I have long argued that agencies or consultants who take on the persona of a brand and engage in ghost blogging and tweeting were inauthentic and lacking in transparency. I have also felt that social media puts a spotlight on marketers who don’t truly understand or blend in with the market they are targeting.
But how could I really continue arguing or ‘feeling’ without testing? I have been, essentially, arguing from ignorance or feeling…and that’s not very sound logic.
I decided that my notions had to be tested. And that test took place tonight during the weekly PR 2.0 Chat. Tonight’s PR 2.0 chat was not delivered or moderated by me, but by Leigh Fazzina. Leigh is a good friend and PR/social media professional and I knew she would be the perfect person to test the notions of authenticity and transparency because of her background.
As I said, this is an unscientific test, but it’s one that certainly opened my eyes and proved that perhaps I have been wrong about my steadfast (maybe even pigheaded) notions on authenticity, transparency and― ultimately―trust.
This was not authentic. Leigh was pretending to be me and I was sitting there drinking coffee watching the chat happen. I was really surprised that no one questioned the use of “my” newly acquired colloquialisms (U, UR, R, RU, etc.) or tone (capital letters and a lot of exclamations!!!). Check out Leigh’s Twitterstream and compare it to mine. You’ll see that it was definitely her tone and voice tonight…not mine.
This only makes me begin to wonder if I have been completely wrong about authenticity. What if I was blogging/tweeting for a brand consistently using my own tone, voice, etc. Would it really matter? What if I stopped and someone else took over…would anyone really notice or care as long as they are getting whatever it is that they think they need?
Obviously we didn’t let you know about the swap, so that fails on any level of transparency (or translucency for that matter). Again, if someone is ultimately being ethical in their social media efforts to help a brand does authenticity and transparency really matter? Can marketers swap in and out and still be effective?
First off, I apologize for using the PR 2.0 Chat as a forum to test authenticity and trust. To be honest it was more about testing MY strongly held notions then it was about testing participant’s ability to notice it wasn’t me.
But what does this tell us about trust? If a brand is using an agency/consultant to be their voice in social media and they build up a level of trust, is it really as fragile as we think it is? I am not so sure.
I believe that no one questioned the differences tonight because you automatically trusted it was me and you would have never expected that it would not be me (unless there was a guest moderator). Again, apologies for taking advantage of that trust. It’s not something I would normally do…but I have been plagued with questions regarding social media and I had to test to prove to myself that I have, potentially, been wrong.
Personally, I don’t think that the manipulation of trust is ever the right thing to do and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being angry/annoyed with me (especially the new folks who participated for the first time and don’t really know me). Perhaps we can all learn a lesson here…
Moving forward I will always believe in authenticity and transparency and will conduct my own interactions as such. And maybe I was wrong about ghost blogging/tweeting…perhaps it is entirely possible to handle it properly and create a level of trust if done consistently. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with that…but I’ll surely be less judgmental. That said, I believe trust is a fragile thing and when that trust is broken due to discrepancies in authenticity and transparency, organizations better be prepared for the potential fallout.
Your thoughts on this very unscientific test?
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Yes, yes, I know you’re all running to get your pitch forks so you can pull a Marie Antoinette on me. Hear me out…
The definition of authentic is pretty simple: not false or copied; genuine; real
I have been thinking about this a lot and recently had a few conversations with folks where I actually said it out loud. One of those places was the O’Reilly Twitter Boot Camp. I was sitting on a panel with Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Marla Erwin (Whole Foods), David Deal (Razorfish), David Puner (Dunkin’ Donuts) and someone asked a question (honestly, I forget what it was) and these words crossed my lips:
You know…PR’s never been authentic. In the past, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a byline or press release (or my agency has) and after it shows up in print it’s only a matter of time before a co-worker (or a customer or a vendor) comes up and says, “that was a great article by John Smith…I didn’t know he knew so much about X, Y, or Z.” And then I have to tell them “Well, John didn’t really write it. I did (or the agency did). He had some input and reviewed it.”
Two comments inevitably happen after this exchange:
“I KNEW he wasn’t that smart!” (Usually from a co-worker that’s been trying to get ink or dislikes John Smith) OR “Wow, I am surprised… I thought our people were always writing these great articles.”
Either way, it’s been a lose-lose situation each and every time.
As these words crossed my lips at the Boot Camp I thought for sure my panelists and the attendees would disagree with me, but to my surprise, I saw nodding heads.
I know what you are thinking…I shouldn’t be telling people that John Smith didn’t write the article, it’s a standard PR practice that everyone knows about. But you know what? I can’t BS people and never have been able to. I am not going to lie and say someone wrote an article that they didn’t. Now, on the flip side…I’ve worked with many a co-worker that has written their own byline or provided tons of input and I give them all the kudos in the world.
What I am talking about here are the flat out bylines that someone’s name gets slapped on because they haven’t been “given ink” in a while or the press/news release that was fabricated because the VP of Marketing thinks it’s time for one.
Now, I know what you are thinking…that’s just a bad PR practice and I would agree. But I am also not naive enough to believe that it doesn’t happen.
Why has this been rattling around in my head? Because this false notion of PR authenticity is at the foundation of the ghost blogging and ghost tweeting debate and where it goes awry in the social media world.
I don’t know about you, but these days when I read an article, a tweet, or a blog post I want to know that the person’s name on the article is the person who actually wrote it (yes, yes, I know ghost writing has existed for-ev-ah). That it’s their experience, their emotions, their writing and tone. And if I find out that Jane Doe at an agency really wrote it, well all credibility is gone in an instant. And believe it or not, after a while you can tell someone’s style and tone and when it changes (Um, Oprah book club anyone?!).
In our new PR 2.0/social media world I believe people expect authenticity…especially when they are used to it. When they read a tweet, they want to know that it came from John Smith [or at the least someone from John Smith's company. [Marla Erwin swears no one cares who exactly at Whole Foods is doing the tweeting as long as they get the help they need...and I am sure she's right. But I am betting if they outsourced all their tweets, people would start to have an issue with that. Just an opinion, maybe I am totally wrong. Marla?]
So, my premise is simple… if someone didn’t write it themselves, it’s not authentic.
I know people are busy, I know companies are lacking budget and struggle with implementing social media. I think if they can’t engage authentically then they should hold off because social media forces authenticity.
That said, I am open to learning about how you feel about this topic. Especially if you’re a PR practitioner engaged in social media. Am I wrong? Is it authentic to write someone else’s words?
If so, let me ask this: Is it authentic to copy a Picasso and sell it as such because you’ve ‘represented’ it properly?
By the way, I have left out some pertinent PR aspects intentionally because I am more curious as to what your thoughts are/reaction will be.
I am afraid of guillotines, so please…be kind.
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I embrace social media 100% and as a business owner social media has been proven for me. But, I know that a lot of marketing and PR professionals who are now just sticking their toe in the proverbial social media pool have questions; especially around the meaning and implementation of transparency.
As social media evangelists we talk about social media transparency and the importance of being forthright, authentic and honest. We also discuss that it’s about the “who” (people) not the “what” (brand or company), an important part of being transparent when it comes to social media.
That said, recently two incidents have happened that are making me re-think the term transparency.
As a business owner the first one is personal, but I think it’s important to share. In early February my father-in-law passed away and I was offline for over a week. A lot of people were contacting me because it wasn’t the norm and they were worried. When I jumped back online, I finally left a comment on Jason Fall’s blog (Kevin Palmer’s guest post) that I had told Kevin weeks before that I would write. Kevin might not have even notice that I hadn’t commented, but I wanted to keep my word. In commenting I apologize for the delay “due to a family situation.” And in retrospect, that was probably a mistake. Honestly, I didn’t want to be transparent…it was a private family matter, not for public consumption (even though there was a very public obituary). But, in trying to be transparent, I might have ended up seeming non-professional. I should have just said “sorry to be late to the party” the usual comment for tardiness. The thing is, people did know what had happened and offered their condolences online, it wasn’t a secret if people were paying attention to my Twitter stream. I have talked about my family before on Twitter, but this was different for me.
The second incident happened just yesterday. During the ghost writing debate, I was publicly annoyed because I felt that Heather and Mike Whaling were not being transparent in their use of social media (Twitter) while debating me (i.e. meaning that they were tweeting as two representatives from two agencies versus a married couple). I found out after the fact from Mike’s client, Eric Brown, that Heather and Mike were actually married. When I learned that, I just felt that the situation was disingenuous (not that they are disingenuous mind you, there’s a difference and I don’t believe that at all). Mike left a really nice note in which he explained that he didn’t think it was necessary to mix personal with professional. I totally get that, but I stated that in this particular situation I thought it was indeed very important to be transparent. But at the end of the day, it’s Mike’s personal decision to determine the level of transparency that’s best for him, his business and his family, right? Not all of us are on the same page for how much transparency is appropriate.
For a brief moment, let’s think about these situations from a non-social media perspective. Would they have happened in a traditional, offline environment? I bet they would, but would have been handled differently. We understand business conduct and yet we are still trying to work out how social media best works for business when we all have a voice and the desire to be “real.”
Here’s the one way we could potentially look at the spectrum of outbound communications (I am basing these loosely on light transmission definitions since we are talking about transparency):
- Opaque – where most companies lie in the spectrum. One-way conversations (i.e. normal marketing/PR)
- Translucent – Forthright, not revealing all, but still two-way conversations. (Ex: a person can be very professional on Twitter, engaging, but still not discussing his/her personal life)
- Transparency – Crystal clear, real two-way conversations (you know about this person’s personal life, business experience, product/service they market/brand, etc.).
From a business perspective is being translucent okay when it comes to social media? Are we using the word transparency correctly? Do we need to know everything? Do we care or not care to know everything? Do you want to feel like you have a transparent relationship with a brand/company? What happens when transparency goes wrong? What works?
Lots of questions here…