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Transparency And Reputation: Communication

Apr 25, 2008
When an eager young person, perhaps a recent college graduate, applies for a job, will they mention their MySpace page? Or their Facebook entry? Probably not, but those sites can be checked, regardless of whether or not they've added them to their resume, application or(for some reason) are discussing them during their job interview. Employers engaged in the hiring process today often consider their candidate's online pictures and pages, which are quickly and easily accessible on the internet. More than ever, a reputation gained (or lost) by these sites may be an important aspect of whether or not that eager young person is one who wins the job.

Santa Rosa columnist, Thom Friedman, reminds us that, "When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cell phone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is a filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We're all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer - and each of us so much more transparent."

Since the word transparency is defined as seeing through an object, in discussing individual reputations, it also defines seeing the faults and missteps caught and recorded -- now instantly available to the world.

There's no question about the dramatic effect technology has had on how we regard people and how their reputations can be made in today's world. This unsubtle window of transparency creates a two-way experience. You....trying to do your best....and the public who wait out there to catch your blunders on the internet or evening news. You can't keep those missteps secret, and while we can't definitively state that because of transparency all secrets have been eliminated, it's definitely getting harder to get away with something. And it's definitely harder to try to hide that something from public view.

In today's YouTube world, people have little control. Especially those in the public eye. And especially political candidates. If they slip up and say something they didn't plan on, something they don't want to be remembered for, they may as well just chalk it up to life experience since there's no doing it over and no place to hide. Their mistake will be shown somewhere - on the internet or TV -- before the end of the day. More than ever, politicians cannot let their guard down.

Celebrities can't either. They're best (or worst) at exhibiting misbehavior for the camera. Aren't we all familiar with Lindsay Lohan's escapades. And Britney Spears. You can't log on to your computer without seeing their familiar faces. Every mistake or poor choice of behavior that celebrities make will unfortunately endure as a significant part of their reputation.

Not only politicians, celebrities,(and us), but companies are no longer safe. Corporations can no longer count on a press release to reach their audience and deliver the message they want and the image they desire. In the age of Digg and Yelp, Everyman becomes the taste maker, the reviewer and the critic rather than the traditional media. More than ever, not only do the people speak.....they also watch and listen.

"You can't hide anything anymore," Don Tapscott says. Coauthor of The Naked Corporation, a book about corporate transparency, Tapscott discusses our "see-through" age. If a company engages in flimflam, people will find out. He gives examples of corporations who have made mistakes but then stepped up and acknowledged them. Made lemonade out of a lemon.

When JetBlue kept passengers on the tarmac and canceled over 1,000 flights, CEO David Neeleman used YouTube to offer his apologies honestly and openly. Microsoft now posts internal videos, uncensored, and lets employees post blogs about their projects. "We have 1,000 bloggers, but we have no blogging police and no blogging policy," says Lenn Pryor of Microsoft. "We have one rule. Be smart."

Transparency is now the norm at startups, and at many Fortune 500 companies. You might say, if you can't fight 'em, join 'em. People will find out what you've done anyway, and it will only exacerbate the situation and further downgrade your reputation if you try to hide. On the other hand, it will, however, enhance the situation if you admit the mistake, apologize and fix it. Publicly. Transparently.

In the twenty-first century, whether you're a celebrity, a politician, a corporate head or just someone who doesn't want to end up on YouTube, it's just not a very good idea to put forth a false front. Maintaining a personal or corporate reputation is more important than ever. To do this, first you need to identify your core values or your company's core values, then work diligently and daily to live up to and by those values. Only through consistent effort, can we gain trust and build and protect our reputations. Personal lives and corporate lives can be changed forever through a blemished reputation. Be open, be careful, be honest, then live up to that honesty.

"What you are thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary." Ralph Waldo Emerson
About the Author
The Henderson Group trains and coaches business professionals in the art of communication and presentation through our experiential methodology. Since 1990, The Henderson Group has helped Fortune 500 companies worldwide improve employee productivity and business results through the development of communication skills. You can find us online at SpeakFearlessly.net and HendersonGroup.com or Attend A Workshop
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