Are you ready to be transparent?
Editorial

Are you ready to be transparent?

Reputation management means being open about what you do. Can your company commit to it?

Transparency is a key tenet of reputation management today. The recent crises in banking, automotive, fossil fuels and mobile phone industries (and many more besides) have increased the clamour for companies to share information and prove they are being honest about their actions and their performance.

Meanwhile, the rising tower of Babel that is social media means that remaining silent about what you do is not an option. You’re being talked about anyway, for better or worse, so you might as well join in the conversation.

For example, during a recent episode of the BBC’s Masterchef cookery show, a restaurant chef was berated on Twitter by viewers who though he was rude to contestants. The mini-Twitterstorm was quickly damaging not only his personal reputation, but also that of his restaurant.

An honest and quick response from the restaurateur, in which he admitted he hadn’t seen the show but recognised that he must have come across badly (he used some words that needn’t be repeated here) went a long way to rescuing the situation.

Your stakeholders – customers, clients, suppliers, staff – all play a part in building your reputation. This is the new democracy of reputation management and it exists whether you like it or not. The question is, are you simply going to suffer it, or actively use it for your advantage?

However, while the democratisation of reputation management does bring many advantages, not all companies are ready for it. The crux of the problem is, again, the thorny issue of transparency – and how deeply rooted it is in your culture. 

Transparency isn’t just releasing a set of performance figures, or allowing customers a peek ‘behind the scenes’ via an airbrushed content marketing campaign or meet and greet. It isn’t even flagging up the occasional failure, or visibly and directly apologising to dissatisfied customers.

It’s much, much more. It’s about opening up your whole extended supply chain to scrutiny, and ensuring that your suppliers also act in accordance with your new, open culture.

It’s about taking action on insights gained, to ensure that everything from workers’ rights and boardroom pay to product safety and environmental responsibilities hold up to the new standards.

This isn’t easily achieved, and it’s also a never-ending process. Even a 150-year-old business with a reputation as solid as John Lewis can’t rest on its laurels and trust that positive perception of the brand is there for good.

To this end, the company still makes public its weekly trading figures every Friday, whether they’re good or bad, and provides reasoning for them, too. The company’s famous ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ strapline, meanwhile, has come under increased scrutiny. Even a company’s most simple, founding promises need to be open for review.

This is the reality of reputation management, and it’s one where transparency and democracy are inseparable. If you’re not being transparent, then you’re really not being democratic. And if you haven’t asked your stakeholders on board, to inspect, build and support your rep, then you’re probably not being completely transparent in what you do.

Martin Bewick Content Lead CPL
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