Transparency is the new communications mantra

PRWeek's various events over the last fortnight have once again emphasized that social media is leading a new age of transparency in communications.

PRWeek's various events over the last fortnight have once again emphasized that social media is leading a new age of transparency in communications.

We have already talked in-depth about the issues raised at our NEXT Conference and 40 Under 40 lunch last week, but a fascinating Webcast that we conducted on Tuesday week hammered home the point even more.

Panelists Bonin Bough from PepsiCo, Bert DuMars from Newell Rubbermaid, and Catherine Fisher from Netflix all represented very different industries and sectors, but all demonstrated the way their communications have been completely transformed by social media.

It's leading to more openness, both by design, but also by necessity, as companies and brands really get to grips with the fact that they simply can't ignore a situation and hope it goes away anymore.

I'm reminded of two examples that were discussed at NEXT to illustrate this. JetBlue has an open and active social media policy, but was left in a quandary when the Steven Slater flight attendant furor blew up. Constrained by legal issues, JetBlue didn't feel able to comment on its social media channels, despite its community clamoring for information. However, once the airline posted a holding message explaining this, and outlining the legal constraints, the community understood and the sting was taken out of the situation.

Similarly, Unilever was faced with extremely active lobbying by Greenpeace about the company's use of palm oil in the production of its soap products, including a hard-hitting video the campaign group put together. Rather than ignore them, Unilever instigated a conversation, and even put the Greenpeace video on its web site, again drawing the sting from the situation and gaining kudos from consumers as well as Greenpeace.

Nestle, on the other hand, reacted defensively and even aggressively on its Facebook page, and merely compounded a situation that could have been handled so much better. It subsequently turned out there wasn't enough contact between the CPG company's communications department and social media technicians, which led to an inappropriate strategy being followed.

What this all underlines is the importance of sensible, preemptive, and proactive communications in this new age of transparency if brands and corporations are to emerge with a positive internal and external image.

The webcast discussion was fascinating and educational and you can listen to it by registering here if you missed it live. Thanks go out to PR agency Waggener Edstrom for supporting the programming.

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