Five implications of the age of transparency

It’s in danger of becoming a cliché to say we are living in an age of transparency, but it’s worth repeating because so many businesses […]

It’s in danger of becoming a cliché to say we are living in an age of transparency, but it’s worth repeating because so many businesses still haven’t understood what it really means for them.

One piece for Global Handwashing Day this week, excuse the plug for one of our favourite campaigns, in the Harvard Business Review blog used the phrase ‘painfully transparent’ to describe how to communicate a business’ vested commercial interest in running programmes to tackle social issues. It can feel painful and that’s why not everyone has taken on board the full implications of this age, despite the no-place-to-hide transparency of the internet.

There are doubtless many more, but here are five implications of what that means when it comes to communicating:

1. Your past will catch up with you

Whether you’re Jimmy Saville, the South Yorkshire Police post Hillsborough or a supply chain manager, secrets don’t stay secret any more.

2. Communications escapes from its silos

Tweets will hit the back pages; earnings reports will praise performance and profits to shareholders and shoppers alike; CSR reports will be read by investors, environmentalists, politicians and customers, despite all the time spent segmenting audiences. Don’t say what you’re not prepared to stand by in front of all these audiences.

3. Practise what you preach

If you say you ‘are committed to a sustainable future’, be prepared for Greenpeace to call you on it. If you ask your customers to ‘drink responsibly’, expect governments to force your hand on pricing alcohol responsibly.

4. You are the company you keep

If you do deals in dark corners, the light is going to be shone there now. Equally, sponsorships can trigger painful transparency. If you sponsor sports, expect a very public interrogation of your healthy eating, performance enhancing, or fair play credentials.

5. Issues need managing in a new way

If you’re going to take credit for your successes, then you need to take the blame for your mistakes – before someone else points them out. Acknowledging shortcomings early and promising (and delivering) remedies is issues management rule one in the age painful transparency.