Showing All of Your Cards: The Importance of Transparency for Businesses on Social Media
Even if I’ve never stepped foot in the United States or the fact that the results of the 2020 United States presidential election won’t affect me personally, I find myself enamored by what’s going on over there. Partly because America has an outsize role in culture as a whole and that everything coming out from America, which is a lot, is going to be affected by American politics but also partly because I don’t think the field, at least from the Democratic side, has never been as compelling. There’s a sense of realness to the candidates that I can’t help but be transfixed.
We have Pete Buttigieg (pronounced Boot-Edge-Edge, as the campaign has been so very helpful in pointing this out), the first openly gay presidential candidate in the United States, whose public display of affection with husband Chasten at a presidential rally earlier on April was so monumental that I had to do a spit-take when it showed up on my feed. There’s also the case of Beto O’Rourke, a candidate so transparent that he veers off into the territory of TMI (too much information) when he livestreamed a visit to the dentist on social media. There’s a sense of transparency here that I’ve never seen before in politics, which I think is something businesses should take note of.
Showing the people your real side
Buttigieg’s public display of affection isn’t exactly unique, Barrack and Michelle (and to a lesser degree, Barrack and Joe Biden) have never been shy about showing the amount of affection they have for each other. However, it should be noted that Buttigieg is in a same-sex marriage and that despite the various progress gay rights has made in recent years, for a presidential candidate to be so transparent with his sexuality to do that in a public rally is still quite monumental. Even in Australia, at least one-third of the country still doesn’t support same-sex marriage and that’s not counting one-fifth of the eligible population that declined to express their views during the last survey.
Being a public figure, whether in a political capacity or in a business capacity, requires you to maintain a sense of privacy. In the past, there’s always been a certain veil of secrecy around politician and businesses but thanks to how the internet and social media has facilitated an exchange of information and ideas to the extent that we’ve never seen before, being secretive is now considered a disadvantage. You still have to maintain some privacy so as not to overshare the way O’Rourke did with his dentist visit but professionally speaking, transparency is now something that is highly valued by the public.
It’s trying to maintain that balance that can be tricky as people’s idea of privacy tends to differ from one person to the next. There are a lot of things that I would never share with people when prompted, much less willingly but I’ve seen friends divulging the same kind of information out of the blue. I’ll be the first to admit that these things can be really confusing so in the following section, I’m going to outline some basic information regarding professional transparency.
Be honest about your products and/or services
Huawei’s recurring scandals is a textbook example of this. Huawei’s marketing problems began way back in 2015 when Huawei photoshoped the bezels out of marketing materials for the then-upcoming P8 phone, showcasing a slimmer phone that it actually is. This then continued to Huawei publishing photos that they implied was taken by the company’s P9 phone but was in fact, taken using a professional-grade DSLR. Amazingly, even after being caught by the public, Huawei did the same thing again and twice, last year with the Nova 3 and earlier this year with their new P30 phone.
Regarding the P30 specifically, two things stood out for me. First, the western world has collectively taken a fairly antagonistic stance towards Huawei and China as a whole and with all the trust issues lobbed at Huawei, not just their smartphone division, it’s a wonder why the company would stoop this low. Secondly, the P30 camera has been objectively lauded as a game-changer, with various outlets claiming the P30’s camera as the best they’ve ever seen in the smartphone world, particularly in low-light situations. Which begs the question, why the need for subterfuge?
Lying, or excessively exaggerating the capabilities of your products and/or services, implies insecurity. If you feel that your products and/or services is as capable as you think then let them speak for themselves. Or alternatively, let other, unbiased people tout their capabilities. I’m pretty sure that none of the reviewers speaking highly of the P30’s camera were paid to do so by Huawei and are genuine in their praise. So really, all Huawei has done with all the sneaking around is just hurting their brand, which is why businesses should always endeavor to be transparent.
When you make a mistake, own up to it
For this, we look at the case between United Airlines, through their regional branch United Express, and Dr. David Dao of Kentucky. In April 2017, I’m sure you’ve seen the fairly disturbing video of an elderly man being forcibly and violently removed from his seat, injuring and rendering him unconscious in the process, and dragged across the aisle of an airplane. The man was Dr. David Dao and the airplane in question is the United Express Flight 3411 flying from Chicago, Illinois to Louisville, Kentucky.
The details on why Dao was forced to leave the flight doesn’t really matter here, the only relevant thing is that this happened because of a mistake from the airline and they compounded this mistake by going about this in the completely wrong way and the backlash, unsurprisingly was swift. Instead of acknowledging blame however, United further escalated the incident when Oscar Munoz, the chief executive of United, justified this unnecessary violence as “having to re-accommodate these customers” in a public statement and describing Dao as disruptive and belligerent in a leaked internal memo.
I understand that businesses have to be careful about the kind of language they’re using because to admit blame is to open the door for lawsuits but there has got to be a better way of trying to handle things and United’s definitely wasn’t it. Later on, Munoz and United backtracked on his statement but the damage was done, the video was widely shared on social media and in future public relations classes, I’m fairly certain that this case is going to be used as an example of what NOT to do in the face of a disaster. In the face of a public scandal, be as transparent and humble as you can and if you’re still on a fact-finding mission, simply say so and ask the public for their patience.