Monday, November 8, 2010

building relationships through transparency

Wow I've been neglecting my blog. This has definitely been my toughest semester so far. BUT excuses aside, I plan for the rest of the semester to be much more active, especially as we start to wrap up everything for the semester, like the Safe Harbor video and the Pepsi Refresh project. But first, I'm going to talk about the book. This week's readings dealt with, as my title says, building relationships through transparency, an idea that is just now starting to catch on among non-profits.

I'll start off with one of my favorite statements from chapter 5, "Listening helps you be less of a spammer and more of a service provider." Now this I like, I mean, who likes spam? I've signed up for plenty of mailing lists, only to get annoyed by the daily e-mails that don't even apply to me. I've set up an entire email just for things like that and it has become my default email to give to companies/organization, basically used for anything that's not personal or school-related. About once a week, I'll go through it and basically delete all of them. Seriously, it's a horrible task. Ok, so that rant has a point, I promise. I think if more organizations listened to their consumers/supporters/whatevers, all forms of communication would be streamlined, improved and more efficient. Of course, listening isn't the only step. You then have to use the information you get from listening and apply it, so you can effectively engage with your public. An organization must engage with everyone, even their critics. The book makes a special point about talking with critics. Listening and engaging with critics provides two great advantages to an organization:
1. You can hear criticism and fix the problems within your organization that are most important to the public.
2. You can explain and give further information to clarify problems that critics have. If you don't respond and just leave the criticism out there, that's hurting your organization. However, if you respond with a thoughtful, concerned answer, people will usually have more respect because it shows you care. Then the discussion begins.

Here's another pretty important concept: being able to lose control. No one likes to lose control, especially when it comes to an issue or cause that one is passionate about. Because of new technologies, the "power is being pushed to the edges." The public has more control now; it's not just the CEO of a company who controls the outcome of an organization's efforts. There is a forum for everyone to get their opinions out and control their own efforts. This doesn't mean that an organization should put in no effort to create well thought-out messages, it just has to understand that the public and other organizations have their own messages and efforts too. The good thing is, most of the time these other messages and plans will help a cause or effort, rather than hurting it. Even if your messages are exactly the same, if everyone is working toward the same goal, it's a good thing.

The next chapter continues with these ideas of relationship building by discussing one important aspect of building a relationship: transparency. You can have relationships with your publics without transparency but they won't be as meaningful and therefore your publics may not be as interested in helping your cause. The very first thing mentioned in Chapter 7 is the dashboard. I'll admit, I had never heard of these before but they sound really cool. Having all of that information in one place, in an easy-to-navigate table makes it easy for people to understand how the organization work and what problems/successes they are having.

This chapter emphasizes trust; however, it is not only referring to building trust within publics but it also states that for trust to build in publics, the organization must trust that people "on the outside" mean well. I think this is a key point (and so does the book). If an organization thinks everyone is out to get it, it'll never let its guard down enough for anyone to help.

The last points made by this chapter are on how to apply these ideas of transparency to the way an organization works. In referring to "publicness" (a word I quite like, I might add), author and blogger Jeff Jarvis (in the book) has this to say: "The more public you are, the easier you can be found, the more opportunities you have." For a non-profit organization, this is absolutely key. I mean, it's important for all types of companies but for-profit companies can afford to be underground while not-for-profit organizations need all the "publicness" it can get to reach its audiences and have an impact. This publicness can be achieved through letting an organization's information out into the public domaine (all information! - not just the good stuff like how much money was donated), being easily found on search engines and having a presence on social networking sites.

Transparency must be found inside and out of an organization. That is, an organization has to share this information (and one could argue even more) with its employees. Creating trust among employees is equally (again, one could argue even more) important in the success of an organization. As we've learned from day one in PR classes, happy, enthusiastic employees equals happy, enthusiastic publics. Problems with employees can seep out to "the edges" of an organization. Besides, internal relations is the place to start to achieve transparency. Start the conversation inside, share it with the outside, and then engage the inside and the outside together.

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