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Corporate History: Window to Transparency

Reputation management has a reputation problem. At a recent cocktail party, I was asked, “What do you do?” My response: “I own a reputation management firm.” This was immediately followed by, “So you create new content to hide the bad stuff?”

The perception is reputation management is a practice of omission and spin. The industry and service is due for a makeover. The Internet is immortal. Google is more than a search engine, it’s a searchable time machine. Social media petitions become global campaigns within hours. In an instant, a corporation’s shareholder and brand value can decline from a single misstep or perception of intentional omission. Soon it will be too costly in human and capital resources to “game Google” with company-authored and earned media content.

Transparency is the new reputation management. Thus far, transparency is a crisis response triggered by an event that exposed a company’s processes and/or policies. Transparency is thought of as exposing the company’s vulnerabilities. In reality, transparency encourages all stakeholders to be accountable to the company’s success and sustainability. Open feedback loops give internal and external customers the opportunity to praise ethical practices as well as fill gaps. By making the company’s entire ecosystem traceable and transparent, boards of directors can reform corporate governance based on real-time data and feedback. Everyone has greater visibility to identify potential points of organizational growth and failure.

Here is a table of companies that changed its practices after being exposed for ethics oversight or pressured by public petition.

A simple (but not easy) way to introduce transparency is to build a corporate history timeline using third-party media articles. Post on social media, go on a cross country and global tour, and publish on the company website. The timeline chronicles the company’s good and bad decisions and celebrations and crises. It is a presentation of humility. A comprehensive timeline presents the company as an organization comprised of people. People are fallible. People can be forgiven. Brands are sustainable when public trust is strong.

Window is a metaphor for opportunity. It is also a metaphor for openness. We see the future of reputation management as a practice of transparency.


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