Verify, Then Trust

Sounds like Elizabeth Albrycht gave an good talk about Web 2.0/social media at the Demos conference in London. She puts her speakers' notes on her blog today. Albrycht is a specialist in corporate PR, and her talk is focused on the ever-higher bar of transparency that corporate communications of any kind — advertising as well as communications about corporate decisions — must meet.

Albrycht's metaphor for transparency is scientific inquiry and the way scientific facts are validated:

In order to test the potential fact constructed by the original researcher, other scientists perform the same experiments in an attempt to duplicate results, confirming the fact, indeed, exists. In order to to that, they must follow the same paths as the original researchers, provided by the latter through references, data translations, and so on.

I don't want to get into all the gory details here, but the basic idea is that the reason facts are credible is that they can be traced backwards to their origin, and re-constructed.

In order for our messages to be received with some degree of credibility and trust, in today's questioning, distrustful atmosphere, we need to move away from the message delivered as a fait accompli, but embrace communications as something to be tested, then provide the instructions and/or information needed to make those tests. You could even call this process a conversation.

So, what would transparent corporate communications look like? The questions we as professional communicators have to ask ourselves is what information do we need to provide so that others can reconstruct our decisions. Everything from minutes to meetings to interviews with the participants could be made available. They might not agree with the decision we took, but they will at least understand the reasoning, which might buy some goodwill, for one.

We also need to decide when to provide it and how to provide it. Is it only made available when a problem arises? Is it easily searchable on the website and available via a link? Or does the person inquiring have to jump through a variety of hoops?

It's all far more compelling than any comment I could add to it. PR people, especially, should take a look.

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