Transparency and Objectivity

Let’s take two sites where you go for advice: Trip Advisor and Which?

Both are transparent and objective but in different ways. It is transparent that the reviews on Trip Advisor are written by the public.

  • The reviewers are not required to be objective, although we’d prefer if everyone was.
  • The reviewers are not required to be transparent, but read a handful of extreme reviews and you’ll find some people with an agenda.

However, Trip Advisor makes this clear. The site is transparent about the source of review information. It’s up to the reader to decide the honesty/objectivity of the review.

Trip Advisor also offers information on best prices for flights:

TripAdvisor’s Flight Search checks thousands of possible itineraries and finds you the lowest fares the most often of any online flight finder.

I have no reason to think that this information is not objective. I don’t mind if a price, based on an airline paying Trip Advisor to promote their product, comes top of the search – providing the web site is open and lets me know that. I’d prefer if the information was objective. I can make the decision based on that knowledge. Trip Advisor presents itself in this as being objective – I’ve no reason to think otherwise.

Which?  has a different emphasis. Which? is a membership organisation. Its roots are in a published magazine, but is now a web site. It says;

Which? is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. Independent of Government and industry, it is funded through the sale of its consumer magazines, online services and books. We campaign to get a fairer deal for all consumers.

Which? tests products and publishes reviews. We would expect that Which? reviews are objective. Which? has built a reputation based on fairness, objectivity and trust. It is also transparent. But here objectivity comes first.

So does everyone have to be objective on Facebook and Twitter? No – of course not! People are there to spout off in any direction they want to and to expose all their prejudices and opinions. That’s what makes it fun.

But if you are representing an organisation and promoting them (or are doing it for money) then you should be transparent. And if you are providing news or important information you should be objective if you are presenting yourself as being objective.

One organisation that struggles to remain objective is the BBC. Here is a speech by Richard Sambrook  former Director, BBC World Service and Global News Division

It’s not just BBC that struggles to be objective – objectivity is not easy. Broadcast news providers in the UK are required by law to be objective. There is a constant conversation between broadcasters, public, regulators, government, business and lots of other interested parties inside and outside those organisations.

In 2009 David Weinberger  – fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society – said 

Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to accept ideas as credible the way the claim of objectivity used to.

Scoble and Israel in their book Naked Conversations tell the story about the couple who were travelling America in their camper van and parking overnight in Walmart car parks. They were blogging how wonderful it all was, how fab Walmart is and so on and so forth. However they failed to point out that Walmart was sponsoring their trip. OK, Walmart still exists, it probably didn’t do Walmart too much damage – it was all a tad embarrassing. If the point was to add to the reputation of Walmart, the exercise failed and worse – it chipped away just a little at the reputation.

What damage did it do to the credibility of the bloggers? I don’t know – but I’m glad it was them and not me.

Am I objective and /or transparent? Of course I’m going to say WIMPS is a marvellous project. But I’m going to post in my profile that I work for Public Achievement which runs WIMPS. Transparent. And objective?  That’s for you to decide. I hope I’m being honest because WIMPS is a fantastic project – if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be there.

When we establish ourselves on line we become a brand – we need to manage our personal brand if we want to develop trust and influence with people who follow/read/’friend’ us.

If we want to be credible and have a consistent online reputation.

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