Transparency Misunderstood


The ever-turbulent world of social media seems to have one constant — the transparency debate. The problem with much of our society is we’re trend-driven, acting on emotion instead of timeless, pragmatic principles. Rather than carefully monitoring trends, doing the research and extracting from them what works, a lot of us jump right in. Strategy needs to be thought through, not trendily executed. Many seem insistent on total transparency, without heeding caution to consequences of “loose tweets, sink fleets.” PR and communication is, and always will be, an art of tightrope, even when everyone’s pulling their pants down for the world to see — and in many cases, sinking their fleets and lifeboats as a result. The argument isn’t whether transparency is good; it’s about how much, when, where, and why.

The Good, the Bad, and the Irresponsible

The move towards a more transparent, communicative world is good and effective in many cases, but the rush to total transparency should be re-evaluated. Healthy or responsible transparency doesn’t mean giving the whole farm away. It doesn’t mean broadcasting every mistake and looking unprofessional when there’s no need to — or when the admittance serves no purpose, other than to look dumb. Responsible transparency also doesn’t allow for giving away proprietary methods or time-sensitive strategy.

True total (irresponsible) transparency means:

  • Constant public broadcasting of mistakes (appearing incompetent and overdone – “see, look what we did wrong, again!”)
  • Inability to devise and execute strategy (too late, it’s already been tweeted)
  • Too much noise and a chaotic, confused company voice (let RELEVANT info rule, keep the rest to yourself)
  • Inability to innovate and patent products and services (one of your followers got the unauthorized tweet and patented the idea first)

Measured (responsible) transparency means:

  • Honesty instead of cover-ups when the company SHOULD fess-up (thus salvaging the company’s image and satisfying the customer)
  • Better personalizing of a company and better engagement with its customers
  • A consistently relevant company voice (people will actually CARE when the company speaks)
  • Releasing new products and services information in strategic timing for effective campaigns, (disallowing unscrupulous competitors from stealing ideas)

The Pragmatic Approach

While social media has changed the way we communicate, maintaining control over one’s actions, thoughts, and image has — and always will be — paramount to healthy international relations, corporate affairs, and overall living. This is a timeless principle — look at the trouble people get into on social networks for revealing too much. Everyone has their moments, but only the naive share them all. The important thing to know is what information is good to share, and what is not. Every tweet and post is valuable, so only speak of what should be spoken of. It’s all about measured transparency… a disciplined PR strategy.

So I ask the reader — with all the hype about revealing SO MUCH of our lives, isn’t it time to examine what we’re REALLY doing with our info? When and what should we NOT reveal?

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I photograph headshot and architectural photography for a living, but I also love shooting street photography, abstract architecture and landscapes - more of it lately with my phone. I've had a camera in my hands for the past 20 years, and I currently work for clients in Indianapolis and throughout the Midwest.

  • This is a great post with thoughtful points and challenging questions. What should measured transparency include?
    * Mistakes that have lessons worth sharing
    * Replies to a customer’s public concern
    * Answers to a published mistake
    * New procedures – products etc.
    There may be hundreds more, however, I believe the point is to consider what is real and constructive as opposed to false and promoting.

  • In a buzz word laden world, it becomes difficult for busy business owners to truly understand what is meant by certain phraseology being tossed about. I agree that transparency is one of those terms.

    This post does an excellent job of pointing out some key considerations before just excepting the word or the concept at face value!

    • Thanks, Kevin. There are a lot of fast-paced trends being thrown at us, and it’s hard to keep up. Perhaps one of the most important things to consider in evaluating trends, is the difference between fleeting, and sometimes, dangerous trends, versus established principles. But then, so many of us are having a hard time convincing traditionalists to embrace the effective approaches of transparency. I believe it’s all about balance and constructive adaptation to the winds of change.

  • Arin Davis

    I agree with Kevin. This is blog does a wonderful job of laying out the idea of what transparency SHOULD be not what many make it out to be. It’s sad when company’s hide behind buzz words…even ones designed to improve communication. Something so simple as being open and honest with your company can be manipulated and become irresponsible so easily.

    Great post, Josh!

  • I have found that the best thing I can be on twitter is myself, just like offline. I do, however, watch what I say in public offline so why wouldn’t I do the same online. There is a difference between being honest/transparent and sharing too much.

    I think the idea of transparency became popular because so many “twitter experts” were sounding like fake people. No one is really positive all day. The problem is people tend to take things from one extreme to another.

    Excellent insights, Josh. Keep it up!

    • Hi Jake – your comment, “people tend to take things from one extreme to another,” is so true; look at our advertising campaigns and the way our culture markets them. I call it, “The Now CHEESIER Dorito” effect, where yesterday’s nacho doesn’t have the extreme punch we require now – of course, that “extreme punch” is a superficial, unhealthy overlay of processed junk added to the layer of junk underneath it – and certainly not the quality of a GOOD nacho chip. It only takes a few chips to understand what you didn’t get out of that super ad campaign. With moderation and balance being a core principle of success and happiness, we all have to moderate ourselves when the latest trend dictates we do yet another splendidly stupid thing to gain success or fame. The principled will always outlast the latest and greatest foolishness.

      On the other hand, it seems people are so desperate to be THE authority before anyone else, cliches like “expert,” appeal to many from both the title-bearer, and the consumer side. A bit of humility cures that, realizing we’re all still learning, especially with new media.

      Thanks so much for your insights, Jake!