When you live in a glass house, it's imperative that you buy a good set of curtains.
In a digital era of unprecedented access and over-hyped transparency, even the venerable Apple privacy "gestapo" struggles to maintain their legendary firewall of secrecy.
Some say it's the tequila, so let's call this The Tequila Principle.
The Tequila Principle is as follows:
the more demand/importance a market places on a given set of information, the more likely it is to land in their hands.
This becomes particularly true when many brands center consumer marketing value proposition around modern digital culture fluency and it's rebel offspring, social media. Social media is a double edged sword - while transparency and effective, timely communications may open doors for a marketing department, this dynamic is becomes particularly challenging when strategy and reality demand a moment of silence and introspection prior to communications.
In other words, the digital dynamic rarely offers a moment to think before you speak. Any time spent thinking will be time the market will spend speculating. Finding the balance between thinking and timely doing can be incredibly difficult, particularly while under considerable market pressure.
Take for example, a crises. In the first days of crises:
- Senior management is likely debating the real issues, with significant political pressures and big players very present in the room. While this is happening,
- the PR team struggles to begin planning for multiple eventual outcomes AND managing limited statement/non-statements to the press. While this is going on,
- community managers fail to meet their community expectations by not addressing the pressing issue of the day - the crises. As community managers are often young and inexperienced, this can be a particularly challenging workforce to manage. While the community is demanding answers,
- the socially empowered workforce will likely remeber their social media training, as well as the key principles imparted to them - the power of transparency, the importance of honesty etc. Even in the event of the top down memo declaring crises topics unsuitable for discussion, the community will continue to demand answers, and changes are someone will break the code of silence. There is a strong likelihood that they've been all but trained to do so. In my experience, despite social leadership statements to the contrary, few scales workforces truly understand and appreciate the application of the most up-to-date social policy.
- And if you happen to be in the media space, your commentators (especially bloggers) are likely doing what they do best, commenting on all of the above. If you don't, your community will surely leave you, right? (note: I don't believe this to be true.)
The pressure to rectify and clarify is incredible. The echo chambers of 24/7 news coverage and digital/social media increase this pressure by a significant multiple. Public opinion has never been as visible as it was before, with CNN broadcasting tweets and televisions in every lobby. In my experience, hourly Radian 6 reports in panicked hands cause more harm than good.
As a result, some companies (most recently AOL and HP) over-communicate. The PR team leaves a vague or poorly worded, hastily written statement just to "get it out there". More junior and internal communications leads do their best to interpret the brief talking points they have been given by their bosses, but much of the message is lost in translation and personal perspectives color the messaging.
When this happens, official, unofficial and highly personal data and perspectives leak. Chaos ensues.
When the corporation's internal discussions, considerations, political battles and resulting confusion become transparent to outside world, the public's eyes are blown open. The general public isn't used to seeing how the sausage is made. I'm sure that HP has had a good deal of internal dialogue over the years regarding the possibility of selling off their consumer technology division. In the past, these conversations stayed locked behind closed doors, doing little damage to HP. Case in point, I just purchased an HP just as this was beginning to hit the news!
HP's rush to communicate in this most recent crises, was likely dictated by incredibly strong political and market pressures,. Having been through many a crises myself, I have seen far too many marketing communications professionals lose sight of the big picture, forgetting basic rules of communications management in the face of massive pressure.
In the early stages of a crises, the public needs to know that you are there, but they do not know everything. It's often better to let them know that you are contacting your management for an answer or better yet, investigating the issue for them, than to have to come back and change your story 6 hours later. Take the time to get it as right as you can. Think of this as erecting temporary curtains in your glass house.
In HP's case, poor communications and repeated revisions of these communications over a two week period caused massive untold damage to both their consumer market segment brand and it's resale value. HP lost an untold fortune due to poor communications.
The same can be said for AOL and Mike Arrington. AOL management should have learned from Arrington and Josh Topolsky's dust up seven months ago that bloggers have big personalities and may interpersonal internal political battles into the public sphere. AOL should have set a accepted code of conduct with Arrington a long time ago, erecting their own curtains.
With a sea of change disrupting seemingly every market, management has long taken a "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" approach towards modern communications infrastructure. Over the past few weeks, this approach has born massive untold damage to two massive organizations.
The wait and see approach is no longer acceptable. It's time to get your house in order. And for Gds sake, buy some curtains. I don't need to or want to see you looking like that first thing in the morning.