Putting a Filter on Transparency

In Business, Social Media by Kristen Dugan

A new “update” culture has emerged in the business world, and social media is enabling consumers to receive new information by the minute. Approximately 350,000 live tweets are posted per minute. Instagram and Snapchat allow users to share photos and videos of current and past events and recently, Facebook launched Facebook Live, which offers users the ability to air live events from their phone, while viewers can engage in the content by liking the streaming video and posting comments.

People want to engage in live updates, and businesses are fueling the “need to know” mentality created by social media. The ability to give constant updates is being utilized by businesses as a way to promote themselves as transparent. The idea of constantly informing and providing live information is depicted as broadcasting truthful information to the public. However, consumers need to be critical of what they are viewing in social media posts. While media that promotes transparency is the new mainstream (because trustworthiness is a high value for consumers), there are many factors that should be considered when analyzing information.

Transparency is the idea of being honest and accountable. But in technical business terms, it is having a strong “Aggressive Accounting and Governance Risk,” or AGR. According to Forbes.com, this means evaluating factors like regulatory actions, amended filing, revenue and expense recognition methods, and bankruptcy risk. Businesses are not projecting this type of information when they deliver live content through social media. It begs the question, are businesses being transparent, or are they advertising? While live updates on the latest product or promotion provide useful information, they are not always giving information about the background of the company, the operations or internal communications of the business.

Transparent companies are ones that accurately report financial outcomes and do not hide information from the public, even if it is negative. For example, Dollar Tree, Inc. made the Top 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in America list in 2015. Dollar Tree’s social media focuses on using their products in creative and functional ways. They do not boast on Twitter how the company is financially sound and demonstrates a strong stock performance.

Would consumers enjoy seeing tweets on how Dollar Tree is doing in the stock market? Probably not. If a person is following a company like Dollar Tree on Twitter, he is most likely looking for content about how to make a fall harvest wreath with reasonably priced materials, and that is exactly what Dollar Tree is giving him. Social media is supposed to be used for accessible communication and promotion. To align accessible communication with transparency is tricky. When companies market themselves as transparent, they are most likely giving consumers information on the good-doings within the company, and the information is carefully structured to convey open and honest expression. While it is great to have this type of information, consumers need to realize this does not mean the company is transparent.

Trust for a company is built in many ways: excellent customer service experiences, community service within a local neighborhood, and reputable leaders within the company build trust. These factors are wonderful components of a business that should be promoted on social media; they provide live-streamed content and minute-to-minute updates that the public craves. However, it is key to note that a company needs to have a well-rounded idea of transparency, which includes the technical workings within a company. To find information on how a company is using its income and revenue, research the company. Typically, businesses have financial reports accessible on their website. Dollar Tree’s is easily found at dollartreeinfo.com. And if a company does not have a site dedicated to this type of information, or if you are struggling with finding financial reports on a company, know this company may not be as transparent as it claims.

Social media, with all its filters, geotags and editing capabilities, is a wonderful tool that gives consumers an inside look to the heart of business, which surpasses surface level advertising; but make sure to critically analyze the information you are given before deeming a business transparent.

About the Author

Kristen Dugan

Kristen Dugan is a public relations student at the University of Florida. She is interested in international communications and working abroad in the PR field.