Information about our organizations and our employees flows freely across the Internet in ways we don’t expect. A medium-sized start-up doing business globally – let’s call them New Company – wanted to promote new hire, Susan, someone they had snagged from Big Competitor. But they didn’t want to mention Susan’s previous work history in the announcement. They had decided they wanted the focus to be on their company and not on another brand. A bland announcement was written, touting Susan’s experience in the field, papers she had written and, most valuable to New Company, what she was going to do to grow the company and its services.
When the release hit both social and traditional media, it was big news. Susan is a rock star in her field. One publication wrote a nice story with the headline: New Company Snags Susan from Big Competitor. The article listed all of Susan’s experience right down to the years she worked at various competitors. The leadership at New Company was disappointed and thought the PR team had gone against their wishes. It hadn’t. Instead, the thin release lacked so much information that the reporter had Googled Susan. Up came her extensive Linked-In profile and a detailed résumé from a conference where she had delivered a paper.
New Company’s wishes – right or wrong – had been thwarted by the porosity of information.
In the days of the fax, paper and snail mail world, information was harder to get. You had to call a company or rely on its public information, usually in the form of a corporate brochure and advertising, or make a trip to the library. But now, in the digital world, information flows freely. You literally have a library at your fingertips. And the information about you and your industry lingers in the ether longer than many of us would like. Yet so many companies and organizations think they can tell the left hand something and the right hand won’t know.
So, how do you avoid the porosity of information trap?
Authenticity is the new cool. In a world filled with lies, half-truths, and hype, companies and individuals who appear to speak the truth, warts and all, earn our respect, gratitude and trust. Honesty is refreshing.
Authenticity hinges on consistent action and communication of values and value. So, you must understand what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and why it matters to someone else to be authentic. Using the Prism of Value, ask what positives you bring to your customers, clients and other stakeholders, and what negatives you reduce or eliminate.
Codify your values and value. When those are clear, it’s easy to be authentic. Be true to both in every communication and every action.
Recognize that privacy is an endangered species.
Privacy as we used to understand it doesn’t really exist any more. Our emails are stored on our company or our IP servers. Hacking is commonplace. But even without cyber-threats, the internet vacuums up information about us, storing all manner of bits and bytes about our lives, our work, our shopping preferences, the causes we support, and countless other personal and professional details.
Some of it we voluntarily put out there through Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In or Instagram. Search engines piece together a mosaic of information about us. And algorithms track our web activity, so advertisers and others with the know-how and dollars can mine it.
In every communications in every form, we must make certain all the pieces match the picture that we wouldn’t mind everyone – worldwide – seeing.
Understand the flow of information.
Information doesn’t stay where we want it, especially if it is in written form. The more people who have it, the more likely it will become public. Our words can reach millions with just one click.
Because information flows so freely, you can’t have one message inside your organization and say something completely different to those outside your enterprise. So, for example, internal memos should be regarded as public documents, especially if they are going to the entire team. It’s not that employees aren’t trustworthy. But they may tell a spouse or partner or a friend who may inadvertently tell someone else.
Information flows like a river – which sometimes floods into unanticipated realms.
In the digital age, it’s too easy to get caught when we aren’t acting consistently, when we have dueling messages, or when our actions don’t match our words. You can avoid the porosity of information trap by being authentic and transparent. It’s good policy. And it’s good business.