Sep 14 2009
People say we’re the same, an ironic statement given how often we disagree. Our polarized views on communication leave me wondering if organizations will ever be able to understand their stakeholders, and develop true relationships with them.
It seems we both want the same thing: Better outcomes, just our methods are so different. In fact, we do things so differently that I have often given up on you. As life so often does, it’s when I give up that you seem to show a little promise; that maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the concept of open, honest and transparent communications.
If my time were to end on this earth today, I would not do so with my back turned to you. So I am writing this letter. You may not be ready for it. You may never be. That’s OK.
Brand image is important, and in this world of many media forms — established and new — manifesting a good image can be quite a challenge. Your method to address this has been message control. But I want to tip you off on a little secret. It has much less to do with posturing, positioning, controlling, and saying the right thing, and much more to do with simple, right actions. In fact, if you focus on communicating organizational actions and initiatives, and specifically how they impact your stakeholders, then you may be surprised how strong your image is.
I know how scary this is. By its very nature, the human condition will cause all organizations to be fallible. That means our images are subject to self deprecation, or worse, permanent damage at our own hands.
Lord knows my own personal fallibility has caused me great pain on and offline. But being honest about those fallacies, seeking to correct them when I could, being willing to accept progress instead of perfection, and yes, upholding the many assets I bring to the table has allowed me to by and large overcome those fallacies. And so it is possible to move forward in spite of my fears.
You must be thinking, “But, what about those naysayers, the ones who are still angry?” There will always be detractors, those who do not agree with us. It’s impossible to please everyone, and in fact trying to do so will only make you crazy. Instead, focusing on your positive actions and mindfully addressing errors will allow you to fortify the majority, and even attract additional allies.
Courage, my friend, is the ability to act in accordance with one’s beliefs in spite of fear and criticism. In this brave new digital world where word of mouth can spread like wildfire, courage is needed. With courage and a willingness towards honesty, openness and transparency, your communications with stakeholders will strengthen. In fact, you will be amazed by this brave, new world.
But if you keep trying to make these new tools play by your old rules, I fear for you. Not that negativity will happen, but instead continued poor relations with your stakeholders. They see through the contrived imagery, and they reward you with silence, contempt, and once in a while, public scorn.
Worse, because you publish “social” content you may actually think you are successful. That’s the saddest part. The relationships you have will be shallow and vain. You will never know how great your relationships could be.
So, in parting my friend, please consider your actions and not your image. The image will follow your actions. Go forth courageously with progress in mind and a willingness to build relationships. And yes, if you stumble, correct your wrongs openly and keep your assets in mind. You may be surprised how people will become attracted to your strengths and look beyond your shortcomings.
May your faith grow with every step you take,
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