Social media is a multi-faceted tool. It empowers consumers by allowing them unprecedented access to their favorite brands and companies, and it also provides them a loudspeaker for complaints, which gives them leverage over these same companies.
But that's not all!
Social media is also forcing something which few of us expected: transparency.
In the past, companies, organizations, clubs, politicians, leaders of all kinds have had the ability to pull a blanket over their doings to keep the general public from ever having a completely clear view of just what was going on. But those days are quickly going away.
Today social media allows anyone with an internet connection to report, post; snap a picture of what's really going on, and generally speaking, pull back the blanket of secrecy. Companies who have made it their business to do things in secret are not going to have an easy time of it in the Digital Age.
I read a story today about how this type of forced transparency is changing the ski resort industry. It seems that they can longer exaggerate the amount or frequency of snowfall because skiers who are on the mountain are quick to post pics of what's really going on.
So, what's the best practice for a company who has a legitimate right to secrecy? Should they ban all cell phones and social media? Should they engage in mind control tactics to force their employees not to divulge their secrets? Or should they just learn to deal with it?
Guess which one I am going to recommend. That's right, learn to deal with it.
We are all living in a new world. An always on, fully engaged, need-to-know-right-not, world. Unless you plan on setting up shop on Mars this is the world you live in. From the Outback of Australia to the beaches of Zanzibar, wireless connectivity is everywhere; nearly inescapable.
With this in mind it is important for all businesses to re-evaluate their stance concerning how they interact with customers; what they reveal and what they attempt to keep secret. Honesty is new currency and it is valued higher than it's ever been. If you attempt to deceive, you will eventually be busted by the Social Web. In that case you will be much better served by a policy which demands honesty in all your business dealings; designing a system which does not require a blanket to be pulled over your work; an atmosphere of openness and truthfulness to the best of your ability.
People are likely to let it slide if you are protecting copyrighted material, a new invention or a secret recipe. What they won't stand for, however, is being lied to, deceived or prevented from knowing the truth. And social media gives them the power to know more about what's going in the world than ever before.