"You can't handle the truth!" yells Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men. Kevin Jarrett (NCS-TECH blogger) plays the part of Tom Cruise in teasing out the truth, as Grouply.com blushes in the transparency of the open courtroom, the blogosphere. The shout echoes through the chamber, dying in the silence. The truth as to why the scene is so engaging is that people CAN handle the truth--to think otherwise is, well, dumb.
In the Cluetrain Manifesto, that seminal work, the following appears:
Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets. Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It's going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.
Source: The ClueTrain Manifesto
Conversation. If you want to do business, online or otherwise, then you better get the heck out of the way so that employees and the sometime consumers out there can connect. It's no longer top-down, CEO or PR person against the masses, managing the conversation. As Susan Scott says, "A managed conversation is a FAILED conversation."
Don't go, with hat in hand, to your customers and ask them to hold back. In fact, consider Dave Weinberger's words:
By embracing transparency, a company makes some implicit statements: We have nothing to hide. We trust you enough to give you information that we used to keep secret. We're not going to try to snow you (any more). We are honest. We deserve your trust. We're okay with being seen as fallible mortals. We are good people.
And it goes beyond making a small change in the tone of PR. The promise of transparency is that the customer is being put into a new relationship. Instead of treating customers as couch potatoes bred to be bathed in the hostile photons of marketing messages, we're going to assume we're all adults. We're going to do our business as if it were a matter of mutual benefit. No trickery, no hype, just quickly coming to agreement about what's in each of our self interest.
When someone blogs about you, reporting their experiences and serving as a lightning rod for comments about a company, it's easy to yell at the audience, "You can't handle the truth! Stop talking about us, saying what we're too afraid to say for ourselves! Let us manage our image even though you're the ones who will make us great or not!"
There's a perception of risk that comes along with radical transparency. It's the "what if" dilemma. Just before tearing open the corporate veil, most companies blush. Then blink. They think: What if we screw up? What if profits shrink? What if we have layoffs?
But what they should be asking is, "What if we never regain the public's trust?"
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