Transparency is obviously a buzzword. It sounds great when it rolls off your tongue in board meetings and on company retreats. But it’s much harder to actually do transparency in the day-to-day grind of business, especially online business.
If we can cut through the superficial talk of transparency and actually be transparent as online businesses, I think it would go a long way in making our companies more successful. Transparency doesn’t just make good ethical sense; it makes good business sense, too.
The reason why transparency is so appealing is largely due to cultural trends and human behavior. We like people who are transparent, so it makes sense that we like companies who are transparent, too. It’s not about some new “hack” or “technique.” It’s about being a real person, a real leader, and a real company.
Transparency is appealing in a raw, human sort of way. We know this intuitively from our interactions with other people. As you get to know someone, you develop an increasing sense of transparency with them, and they towards you. You can’t really be friends with someone unless there’s some level of transparency.
This happens on a larger scale, too–with companies and online marketing. Here are a few reasons why:
We do business in a culture that is characterized by social transparency.
Social media is a new way to be transparent. People express themselves more openly and in a more public way than ever before. Although some of this transparency is carefully engineered to place us in the best possible light, the reality of transparency is still there.
We do business in a culture that has experienced the erosion of privacy.
It’s no longer seen as a virtue to be private. Whistle blowers and hackers are hailed as celebrities, and less are being maligned as traitors. It seems like every few weeks, major corporations leak the personal details of millions of people. Sure, we get a little nervous and change a password or two, but it’s almost like it’s an expected thing.
Privacy is on the decline, and transparency is the new virtue du jour.
Transparency produces trust. Who can trust a company or person who doesn’t disclose information, who keeps everything close to the vest, who doesn’t share anything?
There are very few ways to build trust, but one of them is to be transparent. The opposite of transparency is secrecy, which only serves to erode trust.
Entire organizations exist for the sole purpose of encouraging transparency. Why? Because a culture that is more transparent can build trust. Trust defeats corruption.
Transparency wins, because transparency engenders trust.
Buffer’s transparent revenue model touched off a frenzy of reactions, ranging from “What the?!” to “That is awesome!”
What was the biggest impact, though? As Quartz reported, “[Buffer’s] strategy is part of . . . strengthening the foundation of teamwork.” Glenn Lopis says as much in a Forbes article: “Transparency . . . forces a team to work smarter together.”
As people become more transparent with one another, their relationships deepen. And who is responsible for leading that move towards transparency? It’s the leadership of the business. Transparency has to start at the top.
I’ve been theorizing on the topic of transparency, but haven’t yet explained what exactly I mean by transparency. There’s an inherent challenge in describing what a transparent business is.
In order for a business to be transparent, its people need to be transparent. A culture of transparency takes shape when leaders intentionally manifest their own personal transparency, and encourage it in the attitudes and behaviors of their team members. In other words, transparency starts with people.
When an organization’s people are transparent, then the organization is ready to follow. Here’s how you can apply principles of transparency to your online marketing endeavors.
Be transparent about the price. There’s seldom a need to hide the pricing of a product. Explain upfront what it costs, what they’ll get, and how they’ll get it.
Be transparent about guarantees. I think that guarantees are important for any product. Explain the guarantee as plainly as possible. The simpler the guarantee, the better. Here’s how Crazy Egg explains their guarantee: “You are fully protected by our 100% No-Risk Double-Guarantee. If you don’t increase your website’s conversion rate or revenues over the next 30 days, just let us know and we’ll send you a prompt refund. No questions asked.”
Be personally transparent. In keeping with the transparency-starts-with-people principle, you as a business leader should be transparent. The best way to be transparent is to get on social media; blog about your failures; blog about your successes.
Be transparent about business mistakes and successes. One of the ways that a company can be transparent is by allowing third parties to discuss their work on the company’s behalf. For example, Conversion Rate Experts has produced articles and resources discussing their work for Crazy Egg. This level of transparency has helped to engender trust in the business.
Be transparent about unsatisfied customers. If people aren’t happy, it won’t do any good to hide it. People are going to vent on social media. Rather than nail the complainers and scurry to erase their bad attitude, deal with it openly and honestly.
Be transparent about change. Change is the perfect opportunity to exercise transparency. Be upfront about how you’re changing your business model, your prices, your leadership, your products, or anything else. The fact that you’re declaring the changes openly is just as significant as the change itself.
Transparency is one of those subtle things that can make a dramatic impact on a business. Yes, it will impact your bottom line. But that’s not the whole point. The point is that it helps everyone do business better–you, your clients, your team member.
A culture of transparency is the way business ought to be done.