It’s hard to be a medium or large corporation these days.  The demands are not small, with expectations of investors, disappointing market performance, employee needs, government regulations and oversight… there’s almost no time left for the most important part of any business: customers.

Of course, that’s where the current craze around social media comes in.  The expectation is that any company can use all sorts of free tools to stretch marketing and PR dollars, and maybe make the customer feel more welcome picking up your brand at Wal-Mart.

But that whole scenario is bound to bust as surely as your pick of economic bubbles.

The reality is that to really engage using social media and realize honest benefits requires more than a passing interest in new shiny things.  Social media requires real openness, and if you’re not willing to be open, people can tell.

The power of this new ideal comes from the willingness to have an open culture. That means that there are no artificial barriers between departments, positions, business units, or people. It means that interacting with the public is a part of every position, not just the domain of marketing, PR, and an occasional press release from the CEO.

Openness means that the C-level is talking in public forums alongside the shipping department, or accounting, or human resources.  Bringing openness to a culture means that everyone is able to talk about nearly anything.

With that being said, it’s ok to still have intellectual property and protect that.  You’re right in protecting developing business plans, or new products, or several other types of information an organization holds and makes money from.  However, beyond that, an organization can talk openly about the challenges it faces, or hold up a consumer enthusiast group as a model, or any such thing that shows a human side of a company.

Sometimes we, that is companies, worry too much about what the competition may think.  Organizations can get wrapped up in being too professional.  Being open about things doesn’t take away from any of this.  When done from a position of transparency, and honest intention of open interaction, a company can grow a much more loyal consumer base, and open source their own PR army. But that’s another post.

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