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I attended BlogWorld Expo last year for my company, BlogTalkRadio (I'm VP, Business Development) and enjoyed a number of solid sessions and prime networking.

My focus in terms of what I wanted to learn about from the event, however, was insights about authenticity in Social Media as I was researching my book, Tactical Transparency that I've co-authored with Shel Holtz.

To that end, I was very encouraged to attend the Ethics in Blogging Workshop at BlogWorldExpo where I had the chance to interview a number of panelists after the event (you can watch videos I shot of Amy Gahran, panel moderator and Charlotte-Anne Lucas, panelist, at the site we've created for the book here).  I also interviewed Lynne d Johnson from FastCompany about Ethics and Race in Social Media (and later on about transparency for my book on my BTR show here) After the workshop I also had the chance to interview Briank Lusk and Bill Owen from SouthWest Airlines about thier blog, Nuts About Southwest

What I Learned (in broad strokes):

Transparency/authenticity does not mean full disclosure. 

Organizations and individuals are allowed/required to not share everything about their work or life no matter what the philosophical bent of people interacting with their blog or brand.  Beyond the obvious things you can't discuss (proprietary financial information, private phone numbers, etc.) people should also feel allowed to post Terms of Service or other such notices in places where they communicate to the public to let folks know how they want others to play in their sandbox.  (The IBM Social Computing Guidelines are one of the best of these types of notices I've seen to date). 

Long story short, there is sometimes a sense that to be authentic you have to tell everything about yourself or your company or people will think you're hiding something.  In my experience/research, you can (and should) not disclose certain information but be upfront with your readers/community about why you're doing so.  Being clear, in this regard, is more important than spilling beans for the sake of spilling.

Transparency is/should be revelational and authentic.

I really, really enjoyed my interview with Lynne, especially as we brought up the issue of race.  I say this because I get genuinely excited when I get to talk honesty about subjects that can be somewhat delicate or taboo when it's in a respectful and open environment.  In the United States, I find it fascinating that we're so open about sex and other issues but still don't seem to really grapple with race on certain levels because it's not politically correct to do so or frankly is just too hard.  But in my opinion if I don't talk about something I need to learn about I don't grow and in that regard, again, I am deeply thankful to Lynne for her interview and it's where I really got to initially know about her and her work.

Transparency gives hard Return on Investment.

The guys from SouthWest Airlines (in their interview linked above) talk about the fact that they use their blog as a form of Research and Development via interacting with the folks who respond on their blog.  When they announced a certain set of fares upcoming for a certain number of months, a number of people responded saying they wanted to know about fares stretching to the next summer so they could better plan their vacation.  SoutWest extended those fares and ended up selling a lot more tickets in the long run.  Listen to how Brian and Bill describe it, but the point is that having a tool (blog, live podcast, etc.) to directly hear from your customers not only lets you demonstrate you're listening to people - it lets them give you ideas that can make your company a good deal of money.

Transparency is hard and always evolving.

Picture a party.  It's easier to stand on the sidelines as a wallflower than insert yourself into multiple conversations where you might say something stupid or that you can't take back.  Or you might not have shown up to the party at all. But in my opinion, if you don't start trying to talk to folks and risk being open and engaging in dialogue (to continue the less than subtle analogy to business) you won't get invited to any more parties which equates to people won't trust you or your business.

Transparency is mainly hard, however, if you don't have specific goals for being transparent, and if you don't approach it as you would for any other major initiative for yourself/your business.  Here are some steps to help you along the way:

  • Be real about where you are with transparency.  Do you work for the government or a new media startup?  Your organization will dictate the tone/tools for how you begin to be more transparent.  Recognize it and embrace it and work within those set parameters.
  • Take baby steps internally.  You don't need to launch a Facebook group announcing the work you're doing with a new client if you've never written a blog.  Set up a Facebook page for yourself as an individual to learn how the tool works, how people speak, how people share information.  That same mentality will translate through to your organization, but you have to be immersed in those environments for a few months before starting to create those conversations for your organization.
  • Create your own guidelines.  As mentioned above, you can tell folks how they should play in your sandbox.  People appreciate specificity and hearing why you think certain language/topics are off limits and why.  Just make sure to provide them a way to contact you if they have issues with your guidelines so you can address them and let them know they're heard.
  • Do something.  I interviewed Chris Anderson for the book and he said that you can always be more transparent than you are now.  So if you're blogging and not using Twitter for your business, start Tweeting as an individual to learn how people operate.  If you're not doing anything, join a local social media meetup and ask people for advice on how to get started.  A great adage I go by is the following: geeks love to give advice (and I say "geek" respectfully and hope I might be worthy of being considered one).

All in all, BWE really helped jumpstart the core insights into my book and helped me learn how to be Socially Secure in the blogosphere environment that can seem pretty rocky at times.  But being real has its benefits, and I see no other way to operate in the modern media landscape.