For many companies today, the thought of dropping their carefully-crafted PR messages and talking directly to the consumer is terrifying. In the current corporate climate it’s critical to cater to every customer’s craven desire.
Your customers now have a voice that can be heard instantly before an audience of millions. Does that scare you? I hope it does. And I hope you learn to respect their opinions and give them the appropriate channels of expression and communication they’re looking for. Otherwise, you’re going to get
f*cked harmed (Entry edited on 05/07/07 by BossMan007).
This post isn’t going to preach about why you should go transparent. For that I suggest reading this recent Wired article, The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Naked Corporation or digging through the 3.8-million Google results for “corporate transparency”.
The one point I will force into your brain is this: you need an honest, well-defined voice to communicate online. Any dishonesty or embedded marketing will be noticed, and will do more damage to your brand than you could ever imagine. If you’re going to do this, do it right.
There are many easy ways to show the world what you’re wearing under that well-pressed suit. While I wouldn’t suggest adopting all of these technologies at once, I would suggest taking two or three and trying them out. With that, I present my list of online services that your company can utilize to drop your opacity a bit.
Get a Blog
- A blog is a wonderful bridge between your website and an actual discussion. It’s generally one-sided and can be tainted to contain whatever horrible marketing message you’re trying to force-feed your market. It can also be an open, honest look at the forces driving your company: your successes, your failures, your ideas.
- Do: Post regularly and honestly. Allow for multiple employees from varying departments to have a voice, and allow reader comments.
- Don’t: Delete comments or use your blog as another press outlet. Seriously, don’t exercise any form of censorship. If your readers don’t like what you’re saying, it’s your fault.
- Starting points: MovableType, WordPress, Blogger
Get a Wiki
- A wiki is a website that anyone can edit. Users can change content, add/remove pages, and track changes to the Wiki. A wiki is a great idea for businesses needing multi-page documentation that is constantly evolving. It can be used to build an FAQ or a help section created entirely by users.
- Do: Allow unregistered changes. Make editing as simple as possible.
- Don’t: Exercise iron-first editing. Just like your blog, you need to make certain that user content is treated with respect.
- Starting points: MediaWiki (powers WikiPedia.org), PBWiki
Share Your Corporate Structure
- Online corporate org charts are just starting to emerge. Hierarchal employee lists with contact information will completely unclothe your corporation.
- Do: List everyone. Show rank and position. Include phone extensions and email addresses.
- Don’t: Do the opposite of “list everyone”.
- Starting points: CogMap, Forbes’ Corporate Org Chart Wiki
Enable Customer Discussion
- A forum or bug-tracking system can act as a public bulletin board for known issues, new ideas, and general product discussion. This system will require a bit more finesse than most other transparency solutions, because your customers are expecting an honest conversation and will revolt if they sense anything else.
- Do: Allow your employees to engage the customer directly. Respond as quickly as possible to all posts. Encourage discussion among your users.
- Don’t: Include any form of marketing. Remember that this tool is for discussion only, and no one wants to hear your latest marketing campaign slogan. Also remember not to edit user content. Have I made that last point clear yet?
- Starting points: phpBB, vBulletin
And if I haven’t made this clear enough: treat all user content with the utmost respect. Don’t edit or delete anything submitted by your users, ever. Show that you’re comfortable enough with your own business to take a few low-jabs. Take an honest approach to corporate transparency or watch your experiment blow up in your face.
Your customers are talking about you — perhaps it’s time you joined them.