When discussing the growth of the internet and social media, a lot of words (some of which are newly invented jargon) are thrown around. When we talk about search, you hear words like “Google” and phrases like “page rank”. When we talk about advertisement, you hear words like “clicks” and phrases like “return on investment”. When we talk about social media, you hear words like “Like” and phrases like “social graphs”. And, of course, whenever we talk about the internet, you hear the word “privacy”. All of these different words and phrases prevail across different segments of the internet. Is there one word that is critical to any discussion about online activity and behavior? It may be hard to think of, but once you hear it, you know the answer is clear. The most important word on the internet is “transparency”.
The internet has increased access in myriad ways. We can catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in decades with a few mouse clicks. We can truly experience a 24-hour news cycle without having to pause of commercials. We can read what celebrities are thinking in their spare time (and then ask ourselves how much free time we must have to care about that.) In each of these cases, the internet has made our world more transparent, and these are just a few of the ways.
The effect on brands is one of the clearer descriptions of transparency. I covered a panel back during Internet Week NY on how Pepsi was partnering with a startup to share information about their processes and ingredients with any consumer with a smart phone and bar code reader. One of the members of the panel, Gary Vanyerchuk, explained that Pepsi would have to be credible in its actions, because now it had “nowhere to hide”. (He also said he knew that Pepsi was “full of crap” about its cause; he’s hardly a soft-spoken man.)
The Pepsi example is a clear one of how the internet (and in this case, mobile tools) required a brand to be more transparent than ever. However, it’s not the only example. With Twitter, consumers can share their dissatisfaction with a louder voice than ever before. Brands are often on the same level as these consumers, so they can’t control the message. To ensure that their position is heard, they must behave like a person would in a conflict, by being genuine and contrite. Often withholding information that can eventually come to light will come back to bite them. In other words, to win the battle for consumer satisfaction, they have to be transparent.
It’s of little surprise that personal reputation is affected by the internet in a way very similar to brand reputation. Ultimately, we are our own personal brands. With more information about us publicly available (and usually more easily available than ever before), it’s critical that we manage our reputations. Job offers are endangered by what my friend likes to call “naked keg stand pictures” on Facebook. When we meet a potential business contact, we can find his or her full employment and educational history on LinkedIn. Cuckolded partners are exposing infidelity on Facebook walls instead of in motel rooms. Whether we like it or not, the internet is a glass house. We have to understand that our actions can be watched and bear consequences that we often overlook. In other words, the walls around our internet behavior (when there are walls) are transparent.
What do you think?
In the second part of this post, I’ll take a look at how transparency is critical when it comes to personal privacy. In the meantime, do you think I’m right or wrong? What would you choose as the most important word on the Internet?