Transparency in Online Communities - dummies

By Deborah Ng

Transparency is a big word in the social-media space right now. It’s a fun, fancy term for honesty. It means gaining an online community’s trust by not having anything to hide. By being transparent, you give the public a look into your brand’s inner workings. You don’t sweep bad press or discontent under the rug.

Being transparent with your community means you’re trusting them enough to reveal certain bits of information, without offering too much information. For example, your community doesn’t need to know about your love life or other private details. It also means that you answer their inquiries with as much information as possible and without tap dancing around the issues.

Being transparent doesn’t mean sharing details that aren’t meant for public consumption. A brand is still allowed to have some privacy.

Be honest with your online community members

Transparency doesn’t mean a blog post each day giving away company secrets. However, honesty does mean answering questions and responding to negativity truthfully and without anger. When you’re asked why some members were banned or why profanity isn’t allowed, for example, you don’t respond, “Because I said so.” You say honestly and respectfully that the community reflects the brand and that you have to maintain a positive image.

Also, if you’re asked whether if it’s true that a particular product is being recalled or that someone within your organization made a very public gaffe, you respond truthfully, even if you can’t give out certain bits of confidential information. Say something like this: “Yes, that happened. I wish I could tell you more at this time, but I’m not at liberty to do so. However, I’m learning as much as I can about the situation, and I hope to have some answers for you soon.”

Here’s the thing: Your community members invest a lot of time in your brand. You owe it to them to treat them as equals and to be honest with them. Backpedaling, tap-dancing around issues, or pretending that you didn’t read or hear something are insults to their intelligence.

Also consider these best practices regarding being transparent with your community:

  • If you’re not sure how to respond to something or don’t know whether you’re even allowed to address it, discuss it with your team and your superiors first.

  • Address criticism and rumor head on without sweeping it under the rug.

  • Respond to questions and inquiries honestly. At times, you may have to reveal information that hasn’t been released to the rest of the world in order to rectify a situation. For example, if a customer tells you that she doesn’t like a particular aspect of your product and you’re planning to discontinue it, you may want to reveal that information to make the customer happy and continue the trust.

Don’t take transparency to TMI in your online community

Do you know the difference between honesty and too much information? Honesty means that you’re being true to your community by giving responses that answer the questions, not avoiding the issues. Too much information (TMI) means that you’re sharing private information that doesn’t need to go beyond family members or your offline inner circle of friends.

Avoid providing too much information by following these guidelines:

  • Your community doesn’t need to know about your sex life or your relationship status.

  • Telling anecdotes related to the day’s topic is fine, but no one needs a play-by-play account of what you do in your offline life unless it’s relevant to the topic at hand.

  • No one needs to see you in sexy clothes or a sexy pose.

  • Religion and politics have no place in your forum unless it’s a religious or political forum.