Archive for the ‘transparency’ Category

When employees take it upon themselves to "communicate"… right way or wrong way?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Is Facebook ever dull? Not so long as issues such as this rise from the echo-chamber. Today, the National Post printed a small piece on a Facebook Group (3500+ members strong) created on behalf of Tim Hortons’ employees (although whether the creator is an employee is yet to be determined) to “educate” consumers on how to order.

Case in point: 

  • Stop telling us to “stir it well” there is no button on the cash register for that.
  • when you drive up to the speaker box have your order ready, we don’t carry “Give me a seconds” or “Hold ons”
  • Don’t ask “What kind of donuts do you have?” come in and look for yourself…

Albeit direct and to-the-point (bordering on… nay, definitely snarky) in terms of its “do’s and don’ts”, it highlights the growing issue of employees becoming unintended guardians of the brand (assuming that the creator is an employee given her intimate knowledge of all things behind the counter) – in this case from a potentially damaging standpoint. Or is it?

Well-intended it may be – though born out of frustration, no question. It certainly does not reflect the tone that the corporation would want to see communicated to customers. However, in this age of transparency and authenticity, I can’t help but wonder if customers wouldn’t appreciate such information – packaged perhaps a bit differently. I for one, still can’t order anything other than a “regular” coffee, and refuse to say any equivalent of large, one cream, one sugar. And while I support the notion that the customer is king (or queen), I also feel that my time is precious, so any information to move the line forward is appreciated.

Ultimately, I wonder if this form of communication highlights not only the issues and complaints of customers (which typically has been the focus of social media) but also those of employees – who are (in a roundabout way) communicating to their employers that a different form of customer communication could create a better experience all-round.

"Labatt Life" blog and stakeholder expectations

posted by Brendan Hodgson

In an earlier post, I mentioned briefly that we were working with Labatt to help build and launch their “Labatt Life” group corporate blog. I also mentioned that I wanted to focus on this project a bit more – for a few reasons.

Today’s corporations face issues that require highly targeted forms of communications – be it to investors , governments, communities, prospective and current employees, and around issues such as corporate social responsibility, corporate reputation, and so forth. Increasingly, this targeted outreach requires an organization to become significantly more strategic in the messages they wish to communicate to a particular audience, and the channels through which those messages are delivered to that audience. All pretty straightforward stuff.

Add to this, however, the evolving notion of ‘expectation’ and this scenario becomes even more challenging. Quite simply, stakeholders are increasingly setting the parameters for how they elect to receive information. And that has implications not only for what I chose to communicate but also how I chose communicate it. Previously, expectations were constrained largely by the channels themselves – specifically, the lack thereof and the high cost of utilizing those channels (that did exist) in order to reach niche audiences. 

Today, however, audiences increasingly expect:

  1. communications that are more frequent (yet more targeted and relevant)
  2. communications that are more direct (and unfiltered by third-parties)
  3. communications that are more “substantive” and “authentic” (vs soundbites)
  4. communications that are delivered via the media of their choosing (traditional or new)
  5. communications that allow for both reaction and interaction

For Labatt, talent acquisition and retention is a key priority, and their management trainee program is a critical part of their recruitment strategy. At the same time, they also realized that traditional forms of communications were no longer sufficient to meet the changing expectations of this increasingly “wired” target group. Which is why the Labatt Life blog was created: to provide additional opportunities for Labatt to communicate to potential recruits in a way that allows for direct, frequent and “authentic” interaction (given that this blog is authored in part by current trainees, and provides a real, behind-the-scenes perspective), via a channel that these audiences increasingly look to for information.

That Labatt understood this changing environment made the experience of working with them even better. How they support and sustain this platform over the long term will be the real test. However, keep your eye on the site as they look to integrate cool content from across Labatt, and as they tour campuses across Canada.

Congrats to the Labatt team for making this happen.  

Issues management and the social Web – black and white, or shades of gray?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I was quoted this morning in an article related to an issue pitting Dalhousie University against a Facebook group protesting the school’s use of animals for research. You can read the story here (and find additional context here). It’s an interesting piece, although I feel the need to clarify my rather “sensationalist” quote.

Without question, this imbroglio is a clear example of the changing face of crisis communications and issues management in today’s networked world. It speaks not only to the speed and efficiency by which an issue can erupt and spread – both in the media and the blogosphere – but also to the issue of what organizations can or should do to respond. My colleague, Boyd Neil, a senior crisis practitioner, has also posted his thoughts on this issue.

In a growing number of instances, issues move through the blogosphere and social networking sites so quickly that trying to respond on a one-to-one basis would be virtually impossible, and a massive drain on resources. It would be akin to playing “whack-a-mole” versus strategically targeting your communications to those audiences and influencers that really matter, be they employees, loyal customers, communities, regulators etc. Likewise, the speed by which communities spring up around such issues, as was the case with Facebook, only adds to the complexity of this new landscape that we, as communicators, face. And that was, to some degree, a key point of my quote.

Further to that point is the question of when to respond and, if a response is deemed necessary (depending on the impact of the action being taken), how. In times of crisis, timeliness is still an essential component to any communications. Increasingly, however, timeliness must also be matched by an even greater focus on credibility, transparency and authority. As the social web grows, so too will the level of misinformation and speculation, either intentional or inadvertent. And that has clear implications around how an organization should consider the response they take. 

Ultimately, an organization must first decide if the issue (if left unchecked) might ultimately impact their “business” – be it a negative impact on sales, a substantive hit to an organization’s reputation, or reduced enrollment (as in the case of Dal). Or might it, as Boyd suggest, fade into obscurity?

Secondly, it must consider the environment in which this issue is unfolding. Per my comment on Boyd’s blog earlier today, and as I noted to the reporter yesterday, the social web can often be, to a degree, self-policing. In reading the comments on the Facebook group, you see a lot of folks supporting Dal’s arguments and taking a highly critical stance against the creator of the group. Which begs the question, should the school itself should seek to participate on this forum or let the masses fight the battle for them?

Additionally, it could be argued that when the “author” or “instigator” of an issue hides behind anonymity (or a name only), or is in no real position to comment with authority (meaning, is either a spectator or does not have the appropriate perspective or knowledge to truly decipher what that person has either seen or heard), does responding lend credibility to the “instigator” where none previously existed?

Furthermore, an organization must also explore how it might, if necessary, use its own online footprint to correct misinformation, address inaccuracies, and provide clarity on the issue in question. This might include posting links to third-party accreditations of its practices, and other endorsements from credible parties. It might include photos or video tours of specific facilities accompanied by neutral observers. And, as Boyd mentioned, it might include offering doubters the opportunity to see for themselves. In doing so, you are also arming your supporters with information and content that they are then able to use in other forums.

For the most part, legal action should, as Boyd infers, be considered a last resort. At the same time, organizations need to better understand the implications of social media, particularly in times of crisis, so as not to over-react to every negative comment, but also to know when to respond to prevent an issue from having a lasting impact on their reputation or business.

Transparency and message control are not contradictions

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Wired Magazine and now AdAge have piled into the rather amorphous issue of corporate ‘transparency’, along with a slew of bloggers and pundits. Both are important articles that should be read by communicators and marketers alike.

So what’s left to say then?… well, being an opinionated sonofagun, I felt that both Creamer and Thompson glossed over a couple of important issues, the most important being around the issue of what the corporation has to ‘give up’ in order to be more transparent.

Without question, and per Dan Gillmore’s assertion cited in Creamer’s article, the move by companies to being more transparent (as ‘hackneyed’ a metaphor as it may be) is definitely trending upward.

That said, transparency – for all the good it does – does not, in my view, contradict the need for an organization to be able to ‘manage’ or ‘control’ the message it seeks to deliver to its audiences, regardless from where that message is coming from (be it the CEO, corporate spokespersons, or employees). That shouldn’t however be equated with spin nor be misconstrued as an attempt to conceal. Consider that we individually ‘manage’ our messages every day: in job interviews, in sales pitches, on first dates etc… by strategically considering what we want to say, based on who we’re saying it to, and we do so with no malicious intent (though some may question that as it relates to the first date). This I would deem to be no different.

Of course, the moment our message is unleashed on the world, our ability to manage or control that message is largely lost or, at best, heavily limited. Not only do organizations need to accept that, they need to view it as a positive in that that it creates a living litmus test to the quality and relevance of those messages. From that perspective, I agree with the article writers: organizations will have to become even more forthcoming (read transparent) in order to validate their points of view. But again, the desire to be transparent does not imply that an organization must toss out its right to manage the messages it delivers. Although it does mean changing how those messages are delivered and by whom. And it does mean acknowledging the fact that what you say will face significantly greater scrutiny, so you better get it right first time.   

Moreover, and contrary to where I believe Creamer is going, I would not suggest that transparency is an either-or proposition (get naked or don’t). Many organizations – even the Southwest’s, the Sun’s, the GM’s and other corporations who have actively embraced social media – still rely heavily on traditional ‘one-way’ or ‘locked down’ PR and marketing to communicate their message. Should that be seen as a repudiation to their desire to be more ‘transparent’ and to engage in a more open and ‘transparent’ dialog with their audiences? I don’t believe so. Rather, I would suggest it acknowledges the very different expectations, and behaviours, of an organization’s audiences, and the strategies or processes required to address those expectations.

So yeah, I will continue to counel clients to get ‘naked’. Legitimate efforts to increase transparency do build trust, and will continue to have an increasing impact on reputation. At the same time, many of these organizations still have businesses to run – businesses that rely on reaching sizable audiences via the channels through which they still receive the bulk of their information. And that will still require more traditional strategic thinking. How well we bridge the traditional to the new in this age of increasing transparency will be a key factor in our, and our clients, success.