What does the word transparency mean? Even from the definition above it seems that it's not definitive: "the condition of being transparent." Almost every blog piece on how to put together a crisis plan for social media includes the phrase "be transparent." But what exactly does that mean?
In the years before Crisis 2.0, it was common practice for brands to withhold information from the public when a crisis occurred. If you could keep it from getting to the press and handle it in-house, it was considered a win. Today, that doesn't fly. Everyone has a cell phone, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. It's hard to keep bad news a secret for very long. And if you try, you will be perceived as being secretive and having something to hide--a crisis accelerant.
The trouble with the phrase "be transparent" is that it has no concrete tactical definition. It's one thing to say it, but what does it look like? Chances are, most brands define it as an internal cultural standard. My comfort level may define that I am transparent if I acknowledge an event if asked by the media. Another brand may feel the need to share every sordid detail up front. Both would say they are being transparent.
I would propose that we define transparency (and other ethereal crisis concepts) tactically, not strategically. Here are a few examples of how the phrase could be replaced in a strategic crisis planning document.
1. Be as immediate as possible: As soon as the proper logistical facts are available, report the incident to the public. If it is already out there and you are still gathering facts, acknowledge the event and issue a holding statement with information to follow on a schedule.
2. Always tell the truth. If you need to haul legal in, do so. But always tell the truth-as much of it as the public needs to be informed. Start with an apology or expression of sympathy.
3. Keep the public informed. In operational crises or disasters, it is important to share frequently. In a reputation event, this is equally important, but it takes on a different time schedule.
4. Communicate your plan: Let the public know what you are doing to make it right, where the solutions and help are, and where they can get the real-time information they need.
5. Let the public know who is in charge. Put a face on the information. It might be the CEO, or it might be the head of operations, but put a trusted (and trained) face on the information flow. Now, the public knows the brand has got someone in charge of answering for the crisis.
Is it time to purge the word transparency from the company social media crisis strategy?