We are living in the age of the “overshare,” with readily accessible information on the innermost thoughts and most mundane activities of seemingly everyone. Customers now clamor for transparency and authenticity from brands they use, but what does that mean? It’s easy to err on the side of too much information (TMI) if you try to fulfill a demand for transparency and authenticity without a plan. A great PR pro thinks through the reactions and consequences before jumping in on behalf of a brand.

Transparency, as referenced in the digital age, means that customers are now interested in your motivations and your actions as well as your product. Gone are the days where a simple press release could fix a misstep by a brand executive, for example. Now, if the “face” of your brand makes a public error, the customer expects not only a swift and open (“transparent”) public correction but also a deeper explanation about how and when you will fix the problem, and how you will keep the fix aligned to your values.

That’s right – the customer cares more than ever about a brand’s values now. We don’t mean in the near news cycle where so much brand messaging has become politicised – that’s a topic for a different article. Rather, every brand needs a core message and mission statement. Clearly articulated ideas about diverse topics ranging from minority representation in the workforce to handling automation’s impact on jobs are key to a brand’s success and sustainability (in fact, sustainability is another hot topic right now).

When developing core values through the work you do with your PR team, think through how those values will play out in public. Setting guardrails at the beginning become vital to success. Guardrails ensure that procedures are in place to keep representatives of your brand from overstepping the bounds of transparency and entering into TMI-land. The TMI zone can create stressful situations for your PR team to solve.

Some examples of TMI:

  • Brand reps airing personal grievances online via brand accounts
  • Brand reps getting into public arguments in response to bad reviews
  • Employees disclosing confidential information
  • Brand reps using foul language
  • Brands doubling down on a faulty product or taking too long addressing a recall

Don’t let that list intimidate you. Meeting customers half way is essential. Transparency is a muscle, and it will get stronger the more you exercise it. It sounds complicated, but it’s simple.

Some examples of pitch-perfect transparency:

  • A CEO who becomes active in social media, acting as brand ambassador but also sharing light personal moments and humor
  • Publishing a mission statement and values on your website and making them a part of your daily voice and message
  • Encouraging employees to share stories about the positive impact your company has had on their lives through their social channels
  • Partnering with organisations that align with your values on public projects for the greater good
  • Sponsoring programs that align with your corporate values (for example, a contractor who helps Habitat for Humanity)
  • Owning up to a mistake quickly and in a human way, preferably on the platform where the mistake was first called out (replying to a YouTube video with a video, for example, not with a letter)
  • Publicly supporting employees who are working hard to live your values

What can you do if you aren’t sure if customers’ values align with your own? Before you start moving toward transparency, use tools like a media intelligence platform to analyse what people are already saying about your brand. This resource will help you determine areas where public knowledge of your values might be weak, and areas where an understanding of your values is strong. Once you have a clear idea of what’s happening right now, you can make a game plan for enhancing your brand’s public image and making it more transparent in a way your customers appreciate.

Transparency is valuable in the age of social media, but walking the fine line between a PR win and a crisis can be tricky.  Make sure you know what to do if you end up on the wrong side, you might be able to turn it into a success story.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 3.34.24 PM.png