Transparency on my doorstep

By Elaine Comyn
May 30, 2019
15min read
open sign

Last week a young woman called to my door raising funds for a sponsored dance-a-thon against racism.

She had a plain piece of paper nearly full of sponsor names and addresses and amounts donated.  She was at pains to point out – twice – that “the school said I will get half of what I collect”.   She had her National Identity Card pinned to her clipboard by way of “authentication.”

She told me exactly where my money was going and how she would personally benefit, so what would it be?  Would I contribute?  I had the facts, I understood perfectly what she was saying and so could make a decision whether to part with my money and put my details on her sheet.

This got me thinking. How many organisations are as up-front with me as this girl was?  Do I trust them enough to give them my personal data, which we’re all learning pretty sharpish, has a market value and do I know exactly the share of value they receive (and more importantly what share they share) after providing me with goods/services?

Not really, no.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 states, for Ireland “only 44% of respondents trust business in general compared to 50% who said they trusted NGOs. Meanwhile, just 38% said they trusted government and 35% of respondents said they trusted the media…with just 27% trusting social media.”  It should be noted that respondents were aged 25-64, high earners and college educated.  We can assume here that these respondents (and our younger online users) probably also don’t know about their personal data that is being shared daily to hundreds, if not thousands to companies as demonstrated by this enlightening presentation by Brave’s Dr. Johnny Ryan.  If they knew, what would those percentages look like?

I’m not going to engage in a diatribe about the current lack of transparency in organisations (given that commercial law and governance does require some opaqueness). Suffice to say, the principle of transparency can be found not only in EU data protection law, but in public procurement principles, copyright directives, investor regulations, fiscal polices, the list goes on and on.

Transparency matters. Ethically of course it matters, but it matters commercially because it instills trust.  Trust in brands. Trust in organisations. Trust in relationships. Trust in my employer.  If you are up-front and honest in your promises to me, if you tell me everything I need to know to make an informed decision, then I’m on board.

The only question in town is do companies care?  I would be cynical in my personal outlook.  However, I then came across a fascinating bit of info.

Writing last month, The Reputations Agency©, who research and publish the top 100 most reputable organisations in Ireland (as part of a global study) published the top ten macro trends to C-Suite Executives. Three of the trends are:

  1. Fake News – Use tangible actions and transparent communication to earn back trust.  The repercussion of the decline in trust yields declining stakeholder support and impacts a company’s license to operate.”
  2. Cyber Attacks / Data Privacy– Data/cyber breaches are a breach of privacy and trust — and are costly.  Companies need to do everything necessary to protect themselves and to act swiftly and transparently in case of a breach.”
  3. Employer of Choice– In a tight and competitive labour market companies need to understand what defines their culture and what makes them an employer of choice – they must create a narrative to romance their story and deliver on it.”

So CEOs are seeing the commercial advantages of trustworthy relationships. If I’m on board, I’ll participate, I’ll purchase, I’ll work with you.  I’ll give you my money, my data, my heart and mind. However, if you lose my trust then we are done and it’s unlikely I’ll return.

In a recent Ipsos/MORI poll for Marketing Week nearly half of respondents said they understand their rights around how their personal data is used which as Lucy Tesseras comments, “should be a wake-up call for any brands still looking to circumvent the data law. Overall, 41% believe companies have become more transparent in how they use consumers’ personal data. Younger consumers are definitely more positive than older generations, however, with this figure rising to 53% among those aged 16 to 24 and 49% for the 25 to 34 age bracket. It gradually decreases to 31% for 55- to 75-year-olds though.” However, overall 46% of respondents don’t believe GDPR has made any difference to brand experience.

So as the saying goes much work done, more to do.

As Jane Ruffino tweeted in March as part of a thread about how user experience (UX) writers have to influence transparency: “I see a lot of focus on cute copy in the #uxwriter community, and as @scottkubie pointed out the other day, it’s a problem. Our job needs to include privacy and transparency as core values, which means copy is the end result of pushing for fairness for users at every step.”

I could get all preachy about it just being the morally right thing to do (it is), but I’m not going to.  Because it’s simple really, transparency throughout your organisation will generate loyal customers, suppliers and employees. It encourages engagement. It will open lines of communication with your loyal, engaged customers and employees. And everyone loves a loyal customer.


With thanks to Johnny Ryan for permission for the use of his video and @alexandre_godreau for the photo


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