What Responsibility Do Organizations Have to Be Transparent with Their Publics?

If an organization wants a strong reputation, and all of the benefits that come with it, then it has a significant responsibility to be transparent. Why — what’s the business case?

Interestingly, transparency is not a responsibility that has always been a fundamental requirement for a company. In the past, it was fine for a company to tightly control the information it revealed. Years ago, many companies treated the public like mushrooms: they kept them in the dark.

Now transparency is increasingly a responsibility.  Here are three reasons that move from defense to offense.

1. Because social technologies have put an end to the era of illusion;

2. Because expectations have changed; and

3. Because it makes for better business.


1. Increased transparency caused by social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have virtually eliminated a company’s ability to say one thing and do another over a long period of time. So, the organization that tries to mask what it is doing runs a much higher risk of getting busted often by its own employees first, even before critics, activists, competitors and the media. Therefore, the organization’s leaders and communicators are being irresponsible if they choose to be opaque on many company actions, important issues and key performance metrics.

2. Expectations have changed and they aren’t going back. The generation that grew up online expects to see everything, and they expect companies to have an authentic humility – a willingness to admit what’s wrong, admit mistakes and do something about it. Corporate-speak and cautious legalese are dead-on-arrival today. Failing to appreciate this reality is less than responsible.

3. Most importantly, transparency is great for business. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis had it right: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Embracing transparency and candidly admitting when you have room to improve puts a business on a path of ongoing improvement. Put another way, if you don’t want anyone to see your metrics in a given category, you should be asking yourself, why not, and what are you doing about it? So today, responsible leaders want more transparency, not less.

Industry icon Arthur W. Page believed that long-term success requires the trust of the public and the best way to earn it is to deserve it. Transparency is now a requirement to earn trust and if you’re going to be transparent you have to behave in a way that stands up to the scrutiny.

Perhaps the best way to understand reputation in 2017 is to remember the words of the Roman philosopher Cicero in 44 B.C. He wrote, “To be, rather than to seem.”  Those of us in this field should focus a disproportionate amount of our effort getting our organizations to be the real thing rather than to seem to be the real thing.

A version of this article can be found on PR Council’s website.