Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong. . .”You can’t hide anything anymore,” Don Tapscott says. Coauthor of The Naked Corporation, a book about corporate transparency, and Wikinomics. . .trying to hide anything, really – is an unwise gamble. So many blogs rely on scoops to drive their traffic that muckraking has become a sort of mass global hobby.
Transparency is a judo move. Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway, and your workers are going to blab about internal info – so why not make it work for you by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them to do so? (Source: Wired)
Since I began blogging a few years ago, I’ve occasionally had the request to pull content, to take it down. Writing about MY motives helps me process the “request.” I put that word in quotes because I don’t perceive it as a request, but a criticism of what my blog is about. And, when such criticism comes in the form of email, rather than a blog entry posted on the Company’s blog or a comment, then the implication is “Let’s settle this amicably in private.” But that’s not what blogging is about, is it? We need to have these conversations in public.
As before, I’ve struggled with the “request.” When the request comes from a large company–or even a small one–it’s not really a request, is it? It’s an expectation. If it’s a company that I’m doing business with, there are potential consequences. Will the company contact my employer? Will it seek to curtail my freedom of speech, by imposing sanctions of some sort? Will I lose access to services in the future because I didn’t “play along” now? These are valuable questions to ask.
For example, and this is FICTIONAL since to the best of my knowledge, there is no Skype user group, let’s consider if I were a very active user of Skype (I’m not, even though I think it’s a great service). Skype is worldwide VOIP for free…it’s THE tool to use, especially given their recent announcement. In fact, it’s so good–for example purposes only–that they’ve started a Skype in the Classroom special interest group.
If a blogger joins the SIG email list, then information Skype would rather keep private is shared via that SIG, and the information is shared via the blogger on her blog, what consequences might there be?
A request to have that content removed might be received, even though the information was not marked privileged up front (or to use the fancy terms, non-disclosure). If not marked “non-disclosure” up front, and it is blogged, shouldn’t it be fair to share? And, where’s the transparency?
What would YOUR reaction be? Please consider filling out the Google Form below….
While we wait for the poll results, in each situation where I’ve received a request, I have asked myself some questions:
- What is the intent of the person(s) or company making the request?
- What was my intent in sharing the information? Have I maintained my integrity and transparency in blogging and what I have done?
- What are the consequences of keeping this blog entry up there?
These are tough questions for me and I don’t think about them every day (well, actually, question 2 & 3 I do before I post anything). I don’t know if they are the questions I should be asking, but they are the questions that consistently come to mind. Let’s review each of them and see if my writing on this makes sense. If it does not, I hope you’ll call me out on it.
1) What is the intent of the person(s) or company making the request?
Although I haven’t kept a log of every request to withdraw a blog entry, to take it down, they usually involve companies–especially the PR or Communications Director–making a request that I remove information that, while accurate, may be perceived as negative by potential clients or customers. Usually, a software vendor will object to what I’ve written about their product–usually my reflections on integrated learning systems–and ask that I take it down. After all, we’re talking about educational uses of an application or web-based service. These are not military secrets upon which disclosure may translate into the deaths of a unit of soldiers or worse.
No, often, companies are trying to manage “their digital footprint.” They are trying to control what people write about them so they can ensure a positive spin for their company. Isn’t it far far better to be honest than try to manage your perspective
In such cases, I ignore the request. I may even post the request online in the interests of radical transparency. From my perspective as a blogger, transparency is important. I agree with the perspective shared here:
…avid bloggers are the ones who influence the discussions in social media. They tend to appreciate when a company is transparent, listens, asks questions, comes clean in some way or at least shows a little social media savvy in their approach. When a company addresses a blogger’s concern it says to that blogger and to the lurkers in that community something about your company. It says we’re human, we’re listening, we’re concerned because you’re concerned and we’re trying to make things better.
As another blogger writes, “Moderated radical transparency, so to speak, is…oxymoronic…..” (Source). You can’t expect to be partially transparent…you either are, or you are not. As such, I would recommend to any company that they respond via the blog, rather than attempt to handle things via email or phone. This ensures that they are being transparent about their motives and desire to make things better.
In fact, sending the blogger an email with a request to remove content is the WRONG way to do things, IMHO.
2) What was my intent in sharing the information?
Why share information via a blog? Well, blogging is citizen-journalism. While not every blog entry qualifies as citizen-journalism, some entries will and sharing that information is valuable when it is directly relevant to the content of your blog. As pointed out in the quote at the start of this blog entry (Wired), digging into other’s business is what bloggers do. I realize that many bloggers refrain from writing anything that might be misconstrued because they have become bloggers on the speaking circuit, yet I have to ask, are we well-served by bloggers who become speakers and then hedge their writing because they have come to rely on an additional source of income? Can they honestly not disclose that the reason they avoid writing about a particular topic is because they’re afraid they may lose money?
Over the course of a week, I will usually receive a dozen press releases from companies that want me to share their information. My criteria for whether to share that information or not comes down to whether it is relevant and of interest to me. By interest, I mean whether it’s something I would want to know, and therefore, worth sharing with others. I’ve often encountered information that is wonderful to know or noteworthy but left it on the “RSS cutting floor” because it just wasn’t that interesting to me…fortunately, I have a wide range of interests.
So, while 99% of press releases never find their way to my blog, the few that do are ones that I consider worth sharing. But what about other information? Usually, when I’m asked to pull a blog entry, it’s because someone objects to what I had to say about something or other. They may not like my opinion or that I shared a piece of information without their permission. But in a democracy, opinions may be shared and permission is not something we have to ask for (unless something is shared with a copyright attached, which makes citing the source and creative commons copyright very desirable).
These companies eventually learn that my goal is not to derail their forward movement but rather to share information that everyone needs to know. If your product stinks, then stop pretending it’s the next best thing since sliced bread and admit that you’re working on a solution! If there’s information you don’t want shared, then avoid sharing it in a public place.
3) What are the consequences of keeping this blog entry up there?
Honestly, what will the consequences of keeping the blog entry up be, for both the company and the blogger?
As an individual blogger, fear of losing one’s job when one has a family and a mortgage is always present. Yet, if you are afraid of losing your job because of what you say and do, then you may never do anything…you’ll be listening to “the Lizard Brain” as Seth Godin puts it. The same edge you get from putting ideas out there, pushing yourself is the same edge you can bring to the creative process. For example, I probably hadn’t planned to spend time reflecting on these issues, but the experience has certainly helped me. But what other repercussions are there?
Well, for a blogger, the more negative ones are that you lose your integrity. If you pull down your content simply because the company doesn’t like the fact you shared something, or had low regard for your opinion, then where is your integrity? And, as for transparency, shouldn’t a blogger share exactly what has happened, from start to finish, giving everyone a chance to reflect on what might have been the best course of action?
As a company, I would be very careful about asking a blogger to take down a blog entry. In the first place, there are no secrets. And, when you press SEND on an email to a list–such as the one in my Skype in the Classroom SIG email listserv–you are sharing the information with a wide audience. Once information is shared, it’s OUT THERE…FOREVER.
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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure