A good line surfaced during Q and A at a forum at PR firm Powell Tate on the implications of social media for journalists and journalism.
Panelist Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post was engaged in an exchange with an audience member on ethics and accuracy in the age of Twitter. The questioner quoted her father, an ex-reporter and journalism professor at Columbia University: “There’s no such thing as an objective reporter. What we need is transparency so we know where he or she is coming from.”
That’s likely true for journalism in today’s increasingly partisan media. It’s also probably prescient to imagine that’s where the blend of real-time social media sharing, citizen journalists, bloggers and aggregators, and major brand media will be ten years from now.
And it’s a good lesson if you extend it to professional communicators in PR and corporate communications. Those readers who represent consumer brands or major institutions know that when something bad happens, many people will blame you on principle and believe anything you say is biased in your favor.
At CommCore we remind our clients that in a breaking crisis – especially one that negatively affects large sectors of the public –it is unlikely you will be able to convince everyone that you are being truthful. Brands in crisis are often perceived as villains first, perhaps victims later if facts eventually support that conclusion. Though you can manage it, you can’t count on controlling the public’s knee-jerk preconceptions. But you CAN make them believe that you are doing your best if you communicate quickly and with transparency:
· Monitor social media and engage quickly in dialogue with key bloggers and online communities.
· Communicate what you know and do NOT hide behind vague canned statements.
· Update your website or with key facts and contact information, or activate your “dark” site.
· Get the organization’s leadership involved from the get-go and you can score transparency points in a crisis that can mitigate criticism by those who are disposed against you.
What are your observations on transparency in brand or organizational communication?