On may 16th, Engadget posted that the Apple’s iPhone and Leopard (respectively Apple’s new mobile phone and new version of the Mac OS X) were set for a delay. The post was originating from an actual internal email sent through Apple’s internal system that was subsequently retracted. Shortly after, the post was corrected by Engadget (have a look at Ryan Block’s post for details).
But what’s really important is what happened in the time between the post and the correction. From TechCrunch’s AppleGate post:
Four billion dollars in market cap was wiped off of Apple’s stock price in six minutes as the “news” hit the market.
So a post from a blog costed some people $ 4bln. Let me say it again: $ 4bln.
Now this really makes a point on how important is to have an open conversation with your users (something that unfortunately Apple still doesn’t do properly). This is – I think – the biggest news we’re facing today: you ain’t starting the conversation anymore and, even when you do, you’re not controlling it anymore.
To a certain extent it always happened (you could still go to a newspaper bringing your printed email) but todays everything is so much quicker (minutes vs weeks) and easier (huge newspapers and TV broadcasters become blogs, sometimes even personal blogs).
But let’s also make one point clear: this is not a crisis in a traditional sense. This is simply the ongoing conversation with your users (and general public) gone wrong. It’s not that something went wrong and you had to take action. This is somebody saying something and your company not responding.
So what should you do to avoid negative implications and make this new media scenario an opportunity? In my opinion it all boils down to 2 things:
I already wrote on the inefficiency of current decision process to post an official company position (mostly needing a yes/no decision from the senior management and involvement of the PR agency), but this point is worth another couple of words. There’s NO WAY you will ever be able to respond to such an issue in less than 6 minutes. Don’t waste time arguing that this or that device could help, this is not a technological issue, this will NEVER happen in a big company. Actually, if this needed a formal position from Apple, it could have taken hours. Engadget vastly outperformed Apple on this.
So – again – you have to embrace Chaos and let go the decision making.
Does this mean that you run the risk of having important informations leaked? Yes, but you can significantly reduce the risk to almost zero by releasing a clear blogging policy. Does this mean you’ll have to sometimes correct your people’s post overtime? Well maybe (just make sure to understand that an open internal conversation could be healty for your company first), just remember that the price of not having to could be huge.
What would have happened then if any Apple employee had a blog? Simply, somebody would have posted a correction in less than 1 minute. Why would they do that, you ask? Well, simply because a correction to an Engadget post will bring you a shitload of traffic. And having a high-traffic blog is – at least – a pleasing feeling.
Transparency is not necessarily a good thing for a company in itself. If you ask most executives, they’ll tell you that being transparent means revealing stuff that may very well help your competitors, and who am I to argue such smart people’s opinions? I definitely agree that such a risk exists.
So why am I preaching transparency anyway? Because with transparency comes trust.
I can believe what you say only if I can see who you are and understand if and how you may be biased on something. And if you have to say that a blog followed by hundreds of thousands of people is wrong, you’d better be trusted.
So what is transparency? Well, if you trust Wikipedia more than your college teachers as I do, is:
Transparency (optics) is the property of allowing transmission of light through a material. It is the noun form of the word transparent (for example, glass is usually transparent.)
Now what does it mean for a company? In my opinion this is all about 5 simple rules regarding what people is allowed to do with you. In other words:
- I have to be able to reach you (possibly 24/7 but I can understand some exceptions);
- Pls let me know who’s speaking and how she could be biased on what we’re discussing;
- No bullshit allowed (marketing bullshit is no exception);
- If there’s anything you can’t say, fine. But pls explain why.
- If there’s anything you don’t know, fine. Either tell me who I can ask to or I’ll find it out myself.
I think that if you respect those 5 rules you can get enough trust to be able to handle a conversation with your users (and stockholders) and being trusted.
If you feel like it, listen to this podcast from The Social Customer about transparency, lots of food for thought there (btw I guess it’s the first time Talkmarks has been featured – ok, very briefly and at the very end 🙂 – on a podcast)
So what do you guys think? Is being quick and transparent (and thus trustworthy) enough to handle a situation like Apple’s?