This article in the NYT today about politicians, exaggeration and YouTube reminded me of some presentations I’ve done on building and maintaining trust in an era of social media and transparency. For starters, despite all the talk of how much things have changed, it’s always worth noting what hasn’t changed as it comes to things like trust. Trust is built the same way it always has been – by having a company or an individual do what they say they will do. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is lost the same way it’s been lost in the past, either slowly w/ little chips and cracks, or all at once in some sort of cataclysmic event. In my line of work it’s easy to focus on the second one as the biggest issue (crisis communications), but today the real threat is the slowly over time, and the NYT story shows why.
If we accept that we live in a more transparent, searchable, blogable, video heavy world, then we have to accept that the transparency makes it easier than ever to find those smaller and smaller gaps between said/did, and bring them to light. Politicians are finding this out more and more frequently. Years ago, it was pretty easy to get away with some whoppers, simply because LexisNexis was really constrained to a pretty small group of (professional) users, and it was harder to find what even a public figure said. Today, it’s a snap for anyone w/ access to the web and a search engine to not just find but publish. Politicians who grew up in the old world have too much faith in their ability to dissemble ("I never said I was a maverick” for example) and not have it be challenged. It will be interesting to see what the next generation of public figures does – my sense is that we’ll see much less of this, just because growing up transparent drives different behavior.
My advice? Do what you said you would do. And in the cases where that is not possible, when situations and events change, when there is a course correction required, leave a trail of bread crumbs along the way. Say, I know what I said, this is what changed, this is what I’ve done. And like it or not, acknowledge that our world is more transparent, and we are all, to some extent, public figures.