Posts tagged: Corporation

Don’t ask, “Can I do this?” ask, “How can I do this?”

1st third of 16th century
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Many of us live by the mantra “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” This is true of many things until you expose your company to legal risk. Then you’re in for a world of hurt.

Corporate lawyers frustrate communicators. They are overly conservative and risk averse. They never let us have any fun.

Thanks to @JeremyMeyers I found this post this morning on communicating with lawyers at work posted by Robert Holland. This is a very timely topic as most companies who haven’t entered the social space feel held back by their lawyers.
The Secret to Working with Lawyers « Communication at Work

I’ve especially found this to be the case with my client. At first, our team and the Legal department had a fairly typical communicator-lawyer relationship. Then, we invited our function’s lawyer to our weekly meeting so that we could understand the kinds of things that cause Legal’s hearts to skip beats. We learned a lot about the laws and regulations governing the industry and about corporate separateness for an entity that owns several companies.

From my time working in/with Corporate America I can attest to the value of bringing your lawyers into the process. There are three reasons lawyers say no so much (and they’re all related):

  • You’re about to do or say something that could get your company in serious trouble.
  • They don’t understand your strategy or why something is important.
  • You’re asking the wrong question.

Just existing opens up companies to litigation. Anyone can sue your company for any reason. A lawyers job is to ensure that your company has a reasonable chance at defending itself against that litigation. Excluding criminal activity (at least in theory) there isn’t anything you can’t do, it’s just a matter of degrees.

The first thing to do is to bring your lawyers into the process earlier than later. Lawyers hate it when people come to them with insanely close deadlines and an ill-formed plan. More likely than not they are going to say no, just to be safe. An additional benefit in bringing your lawyers into the process is that they than become vested in the process and want to see it succeed and are more likely to work with you.

The most effective tool I’ve learned in working with lawyers is to explain to them what your trying to do and why and then ask them “How can I do this?” Avoid asking, “Can I do this?” Lawyers usually have a very focused way of looking at things (kind of like accountants and programmers) and the answer is often going to be “No.” They may say no because of one small part of your plan that isn’t significant in your strategy. If you instead asked how you could do it and discus through the options you’d be surprised what lawyers will let you do :)

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In Defense of Journalism

Quoted in Buffalo News about the local citizen...
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I can come off pretty rough on journalism on this blog. That’s not my intent. I am *very* critical and skeptical of news corporations and the media companies that own them. And the people I hold fully at fault is the top tier management of these companies. I think they’ve been complacent and short sighted which has lead to one of the most important professions in our country to be nearly crippled.

Yes, I do think Journalism is one of the most important functions in our free society. But journalists are stuck in a restrictive business model while being forced to work with little to no resources and little hope for anything resembling a future.

I personally think that in the short term we all have to take on a small piece of the mantle of journalism. PR people need to think less like project managers and more like reporters. Bloggers need to assume a little more responsibility for what we write and all of us consumers of media need to be more watchful and skeptical looking for inaccuracies and false truths. We also need to be sure that the information we share via links is correct.

Eventually I believe the market will do it’s job and an even better model for journalism will develop but for now I think we all need to help deliver on the promise of citizen journalism

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How Much Does Trust Cost?

Paying people to hold signs is one of the olde...

Because of some of the reasons I outlined in my previous post, Corporations, The Government and The Media are all struggling with a severe loss of trust.

Who’s trust is it that they’ve lost exactly? Well that would be The Public, aka everybody. I’d like to break down why it’s important that these groups regain trust and how they can do it. Some of this may seem like a no-brainer but I figured it would be better to cover everything as opposed to leave some pieces out or up for debate.

Loosing Trust is expensive.

Well, I guess that didn’t take long after all. Why should you, dear reader, care if people trust you? A lack of trust costs you money. It’s that simple, it really is. Let’s take a closer look.

The obvious example is your customers. If they don’t trust you they won’t buy from you. If they don’t trust that you will deliver to them a decently functioning product no amount of advertising will help them believe you. Why? Well they don’t trust you, or The Media (double whammy). They don’t trust you to tell them the truth so anything you say is a lie.

If your employees don’t trust you it is probably even more expensive. If your employees don’t trust you then they won’t be as productive or work as hard. They just won’t give you everything they have because they don’t trust that they’ll be adequately compensated.

If your employees don’t trust you they’ll take the first reasonable offer to leave. I’ve seen employees leave their existing company for a position that paid less because they felt it had more long term potential.

If your shareholders don’t trust you when you tell them that this next quarter will be better than the last then your stock price suffers.

To overcome this lack of trust many “Social Media Experts” (SME’s) advocate complete transparency. I don’t adhere to this notion. There are some things a company should never divulge. There are the obvious things like employee records, customer data and trade secrets, but there are non obvious things that vary from company to company and situation to situation. Things like: new products, product features, strategic partnerships, the list could go on. These are often things that will become public eventually, it’s just a matter of how long before they come out. I may be splitting hairs here but to me complete transparency isn’t subjective to timing.

Despite SME’s loudest and most ardent cries I find it laughable that the biggest violator to their rule is one of their most beloved brands.

Apple is the most opaque company I’ve ever seen. I would argue that they are as opaque as Big Oil or Big Tobacco. That may seem harsh but how many companies in the tech sector could get away with forbidding and even terminating employees for blogging? How many companies could get away with suing bloggers who blog about their up-coming product releases? When Apple does this where are the cries of “Foul” or “Transparency”? Sure people cry out but it is quickly forgiven. Why? It’s simple really: People trust Apple.

People trust that Apple will continue to deliver cutting edge products that astound and redefine any market they enter. People trust Apple to to deliver on the promises they make. Apple never promises to be easy to communicate with. Apple never promises to be a low cost leader. Apple never promises to be transparent. So they don’t need to be.

Transparency is a bandage for lack of trust.

People think that if we see everything a company is doing that there’s no way they can deceive us. Companies just need to be trustworthy. The problem is, how do you regain trust once it’s lost? If we extend the metaphor that trust is capital, then it should behave as any other capital when the rules of capitalism are applied to it.  If we go back to my earlier definition of capitalism it’s this:

Capitalism is the belief that the more freely you distribute capital the more capital is created.

So how do you gain trust? You first have to trust.

This has been one of the major hurdles many corporations, governments and other entities have struggled with when it comes to social media. They don’t want to blog because they don’t trust their employees to not say the wrong things. They don’t trust that their customers won’t leave nasty comments. They don’t trust those that they want trust from, and their customers and employees know it.

Instituting a company blog really has little to do with being transparent. It has everything to do with trusting.

You have to trust your employees. You have to trust your customers. If you don’t how can you expect them to trust you. If you’re fortunate enough to not have lost trust then consider yourself lucky. But if you feel that your company would benefit from increased trust than you need to start trusting. The actual implementation that you use will vary. You may start internally first. You may start externally first. You may start a blog, you may start a forum, you may start a wiki or any other number of tools but don’t do it if you aren’t willing to trust.

It’s been well documented that people trust other people they perceive are like them. Glossy messages from the company don’t seem real. Real words from real people like your customers, or better yet, other customers will have a much stronger effect than any press release.

This is why social media can be so effective. It’s also why so many corporate blogs aren’t effective. Rehashing the same marketing junk in a blog doesn’t make it any more effective.

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This post is part of my ongoing effort to blog the book I’ve been working on for too long before the end of the year. These are all rough first drafts that have not been edited or even proofread. Comments and patients are requested. You can follow the whole series through the category “The Book“.

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Saying the Right Thing

I was in class most of last week (which is why I was short on posts). As part of my EMBA program we had a New Venture Panel with 4 people who deal with new ventures almost daily. The feedback from my fellow class mates seems unanimous that this was the best panel we’ve had so far (and we’ve had some really good panels).

John Glerum, the director of the TECenter was our first speaker and he had a very thought provoking quote:

Every time you talk about your business you are either increasing the perception of the value of your company or you are decreasing the perception of the value of your company.

I would like to extend that further and propose that every time your customers or employees (or anyone) talk about your company, the perception of value is either increasing or decreasing.  This stressed to me two things:

  • Have a clear message of your company
  • Be real

This is not meant to advocate strict message control policies. If anything it is meant to advocate the opposite. Have a clear message but be honest.

People trust Honest and Real more than they trust Slick and Polished.

We relate to real people inside companies who make mistakes. We do not forgive hypocritical corporations with their talking heads.

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