The 5 Ws of transparency: Meeting audience expectations

It should be obvious, at this point, that we live in a time where consumers and audiences expect brands to be transparent. The idea of transparency, and authenticity, for communications, is at the core of establishing and fostering, relationships that keep your business or brand strong.

What does being transparent mean and how does it apply to your business?

In a business setting, transparency is defined as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required of collaboration, cooperation and collective decision-making.”

That’s a lot of, somewhat, ambiguous words all piled together, so let’s break this down a little.

We all remember the five Ws from elementary school: Who, what, when, where and why.

Answer all five of these and you’ve laid a good foundation for successfully understanding the idea.

What: First, let’s talk about what it’s not. Transparency is not divulging every hidden secret of your company or publicly admitting to every transgression. Think of it more conceptually, or strategically, than tactically.

Transparency is an idea that people need to feel a connection with. They need to believe that you are a good company that is not hiding things from them.

People naturally put barriers up against things they don’t trust. And just like with interactions with other people, admitting to one offense doesn’t create a relationship.

But, a common understanding of each other, built out of trust, respect and openness creates the foundation for a meaningful relationship.

Who: Who needs to be transparent in an organization? A lot of people will say “everyone” needs to be transparent. And while I agree, I’m going to dive a bit deeper. The entire organization needs to foster the idea of transparency across all operations and activities.

Everyone has a role to play in your brand transparency, but it’s a culture that needs to be fostered from the top. It’s an expectation that needs to be addressed, at every level, with accountability checkpoints established to ensure compliance.

If you don’t communicate your transparency, are you really even transparent? The short answer is no.

When: When does your company need to be transparent? Well, if you have to answer this with specific moments, you need to rethink how you’re looking at transparency.

Transparency is an ongoing activity. As we said before, it’s a culture that’s created internally without starting or stopping points.

The one important thing to call out here is transparency during a crisis.

Once you’re in the middle of a crisis, transparency through consistent communication is crucial to successfully surviving that crisis.

Where: This is a great time to bring up something that is often overlooked when it comes to transparency—internal audiences.

Being transparent with your employees is just as important, if not more so, than being transparent with your external audiences. I’ve seen many businesses lose control of situations because there isn’t transparency with their internal teams.

For external audiences you need to bring transparency to life with everything you do.

From in-person interactions and website content to digital and social channels, your brand needs to convey transparency. The best way to do this is through meaningful engagement.

Why: Transparency is expected, and demanded, from all of your audiences. Consumers no longer allow things to “slide” when it comes to brands that (in return) expect their support, money and loyalty.

Employees want to work for a company that they trust and don’t mind putting their name alongside to their family, colleagues and friends.

Since the solution is different for each business and brand, I’m going to provide tips on how you can be transparent as a business:

Embrace transparency as essential: If you think of transparency as a “nice to have,” but not essential, you’re not being transparent. Engage and answer questions: People want to be communicated with, not at. This means having a dialogue and creating open lines of communication with internal and external audiences. If you’re engaged on social media channels, take the time, and allocate the resources, to engage with those audiences. If they post a comment, respond and engage with them. If they ask a question, provide the answer.

“No comment” is not acceptable: There are a hundred ways to answer a question, even if you don’t have all of the information. If there’s an accusation or question, engage and answer the question. If you don’t have the answer, let them know you’re finding the answer.

Travis Claytor is president and owner of TC Strategic Communications. He has led teams that have developed, and executed, nationally, and internationally, integrated strategic communications plans around some of the world’s top events,  including the Super Bowl and the Republican National Convention.

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