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From Business to Government: Lessons in Transparency

February 19, 2014
by Jacque Porte
IQM2 Sales & Marketing

The media has recently been littered with examples of businesses moving towards transparency. Social media sharing company Buffer, for one, revealed their pay structure in a blog post, and McDonalds Canada presented a video documenting its manufacturing process in response to online rumors. Municipalities can certainly learn from the good example of these businesses as they commit to openness.

Consider Your Messengers: In the Guardian article “Why Transparency and Authenticity Wins in Business and in Marketing,” Scott Monty writes that in order to be trusted, brands must consider three major groups: influencers, advocates, and employees. Municipalities must also consider these groups: influencers in the form of citizens and members of the media who are active both online and in person, advocates in the form of board members who vote on legislation, and employees in the form of clerks and other staff members who can speak more authoritatively about active projects and legislation. Many businesses have identified these groups and their potential for spreading information and garnering trust, and municipalities can benefit from this knowledge. Monty writes, “the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that engagement and integrity are two of the most important factors in building trust,” and all three of these groups can be utilized to showcase an organizations engagement and integrity.

Show-Don’t-Tell: Companies have discovered they can build trust by being more transparent in their operations and communications. Monty writes, “It is one thing for a brand to tell someone what its position is; it is more convincing to use earned media to tell the story on the brand’s behalf.” With “earned media,” Monty is referring to positive feedback that had been earned by excellent service or performance. This method of show-don’t-tell is also effective in local government, where citizens can gain a better appreciation for the decisions made by board members once they understand what motivates those decisions.

Maintain Authenticity: Business have discovered, as Monty points out, that while “Transparency gets your brand attention, authenticity allows your message to be heard and believed.” Local government can certainly make information available to the public, but authenticity is the true determination of whether an organization is worthy of the public’s trust.

Get Ahead of Misinformation: Another important factor to remember is that information travels quickly, and negative—sometimes untrue—information even more so. Take the McDonalds case for instance: McDonalds Canada’s video, mentioned above, was created in direct response to online rumors that Chicken McNuggets were made from so-called “pink slime.” Organizations can take their reputations into their own hands by ensuring accurate information is distributed before misinformation.

Of course, as Monty notes, “there are no absolutes.” Complete transparency can sometimes hurt more than it helps, but done “strategically and appropriately,” particularly in response to citizen concerns, transparency can lead to a more informed public and a relationship of trust between the government and the governed.

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