Oh, no, not more policies? But this is one you don’t want to ignore now and in the future.

Social media transparency is the new code of behavior as well as asset in business communication.

Traditionally, transparency has been about communicating openly with your constituents. Corporations provide financial disclosure to shareholders, and governments report through freedom of information in proceedings, meetings, and debates.

But transparency truly goes a step further. Communicating openly with your clients and customers may be regulated, depending on your industry. More importantly, to protect this investment in your time and customer base, your communication needs to be transparent.

To validate my approach, I monitor social media usability for my clients. On a personal level, also I communicate with people as well as receive valuable information in the social media spaces. Here are some of my observations that may be helpful on the topic of social media transparency.

Social media is so widespread, it begs transparency.  To use social media you have to friend it. Social media is not mysterious or obscure.  It is just that social media requires planning, strategy, and execution.  Consider this tip: Observe the demographics you are communicating with and the frequency.  I will explain this point later on.  As a business objective, your internal/external customer and client interactions are just as important to engage with in social media spaces as your future prospects.

What information do I share with my audience? What social media do I use and what are the rules?

Customer experiences are for sharing, not stowing away.  One segment of your audience will be your customers. In social media, most people typically will cram for fast results, large numbers of fans, and followers.  But are all these people your customers that you reach out to in social media, and are the numbers a measure of your success? Not necessarily.

Let’s break this down first where to reach customers. Your company blog is a great place to be transparent with your customers and to share in their experiences, for better or for worse.  Invite your customers to participate in your blog. Blogging invites customers to unleash their potential to share experiences as well.  I have a client who is laboring over how to start blogging. Well, I have a simple solution: just do it. Whether she hires me to start up her company’s blog is pending. Blogging is not a perfect science, especially since demographics tell us there are so many special interests to be careful of. That is why transparency is so important!

In another example, think about your audience within the company. Your blog is a place to invite coworkers to learn about what you’re doing and what you feel is important to them. The Executive Board, HR, and Engineering are some examples of blog channels that will enliven interest for your internal as well as external communication objectives.  Be transparent.

Social media rules state and stake your company’s intentions. All the more reason to be transparent for most companies is the prevalence of social media use whether you monitor it or not (monitoring is another topic for discussion in a future post, and don’t worry about 150 million Facebook users and 120 million Twitter users for now). Just remember, your employees will use social media with or without your consent.

So, why not construct a formal social media policy to establish the playing rules?  Maybe you already have a social media policy. IBM encouraged Internet use among its employees in 1997. Yes, information technology companies develop the tools as well so it’s a logical venue to be in. But, it’s the company’s stake or “risk” in using social media that it has to be willing to come to terms with. If it’s part of your company’s business strategy (sounds a little presumptuous, but I am raising a key point), social media is a vital communication strategy. And that is why IBM’s social computing guidelines is available for public access—because the company is transparent in communicating its knowledge and resources to serve all of its’ communities.

Opening the floodgates of customer interaction is a good thing. To go deeper in customer interaction, consider transparency for subject matter experts. Ten years ago, technical staff was concealed in back rooms or labs. Fast forward to today, these same technical people—researchers, scientists, engineers and the like, are much more visible to engage in meaningful dialog and customer relationships. Take for example, Google, who publishes its’ own Twitter directory of dozens of accounts. Organized by product line, Google’s technical or marketing representative communicates on Twitter with their own news and updates.

Lastly, consider what the U.S. Government offices are doing in social media. On Twitter, @whitehouse  conducted a landmark Twitter Town Hall meeting co-produced by Twitter and Mass Relevance that helped  President Obama nimbly answer 24 questions, curated from a massive 110,000 tweets.  Is this a good thing? If your question was answered, certainly this access to the President made a difference for you.

Is transparency for you? Reach me @annmaugustine or post a comment to discuss further.