Friday, July 04, 2014

Rebooting PR - Radical Transparency


Once, it was cool to propose that organisations be transparent and that secrecy was commercial and political suicide. It was an idea that caught on. 

Greater transparency led to higher profits for those who had access to the information about the relevant tax rate; transparency in Government, democracy an politics has many advantages and made governance accountable to the electorate. Increasingly governments around the world are experimenting with initiatives in transparency or open government. These involve a variety of measures including the announcement of more user-friendly government websites, greater access to government data, the extension of freedom of information legislation and broader attempts to involve the public in government decision making.

Bennis points out why and how digital business strategy is an important transformational issue for leadership. He argues that information driven transparency will forever change the way that power it derived by top leaders and that leaders need to embrace this new transparency.

Making information available to help inform, enthrall and educate people who are customers and prospective customers also informs competitors, vendors and employees. They too can see the product and its pricing online.

Until recently agency was easy to understand:
  • Had email for fast delivery of information  - That could be circulated easily to anyone.
  • Created websites which showed off: products, services, Director’s names, locations and much more - To everyone!
  • Then came discussion lists, blogs and Social Media - The constituency read added value content and could interact.
So far so good but now we can see new developments. People tell each other about the products and prices, they rank, rate and review about all these products and services and add intangible values. 

Alongside these people are technologies that help spread the word and aggregate the information. They compare several competitors and seldom miss ones out (despite the claims of the advertisers).

Today there is:
  • Competitive pressure to make more information available to develop competitive advantage
  • Competitors see the nature of competition and respond to remain competitive (example - supermarket pricing - PwC publish research papers for free and so all competitors have to do it).
  • Transparency via multi media including ‘social media’ words, pictures, video. Lots of automation to spread messages etc etc
  • Content available across many devices from PC to mobile to digital window displays
  • Content provided by many actors - e.g. social media authors as well as many other company ‘faces’.
  • The network effect means the information available and provided by the organisation constituency potentially reaches many generations from the first view and crosses from one medium to the next and the next and also jumps platforms (PC, Tablet, Mobile phone, game machine and even down to the fridge). Transparency is now also a matter of multimedia distribution.
Radical transparency requires the PR practitioner to develop content for many media, devices and outputs, to monitor the reach and identify the extent of the added intangible value.

Sophisticated computer algorithms help automatically understand human-generated text. A growing field within NLP is semantic analysis and its application to social media content is just starting to mature beyond labs and classrooms. Semantic analysis is capable of providing valuable insight into the meaning behind social media content.

Its like finding that your content has been located to where you wrote it! This is added value and more of the intangible value being developed online. To understand it we need universities able to teach this as part of a PR curse and the profession to include in continuous development programes.

The rate at which the move to online content is being used is not hard to see (see Unilever below) but being adept at optimising transparency is harder than just being seen in Facebook and the machines now have a strong hand in all of this too.

Unilever is a classic example:

Leadership in a Digital World: Embracing Transparency and Adaptive Capacity
Warren Bennis. MIS Quarterly Volume 37, Number 2 — June 2013

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