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Transparency has in the past been pegged by consumers as one of the core values that brands should embody. New data from Sprout Social [download page] confirms the importance that adults in the US place on brand transparency, with 86% saying that it’s more important than before. But what exactly does transparency mean, and how can brands demonstrate it?

What’s Transparency?

The 1,000 adults surveyed for the report defined transparency mostly along the lines of openness (59%), clarity (53%) and honesty (49%). Fewer associated it with authenticity (26%) – another important value for consumers – or with integrity (23%) and communication (19%).

Sometimes it’s just as instructive to define something by what it’s not… So here are actions on social media that demonstrate a lack of transparency, according to a majority of respondents:

  • Withholding information (69%);
  • Ignoring customer questions (68%); and
  • Ignoring employee questions (58%).

Why focus on social media? About 4 in 10 believe that transparency from brands is more important than ever due to social media. In fact, previous research from Sprout Social has found 3 in 4 social media users surveyed believing that social has increased accountability for brands by giving consumers power.

Few Feel That Brands Are Very Transparent on Social

Just 15% of survey respondents feel that brands are “very transparent” on social media today, with twice as many feeling they’re “not at all transparent.” This suggests that there’s plenty of room (and perhaps a competitive edge to be found) in meeting consumers’ expectations for transparency.

Those expectations, it should be noted, are higher for brands than for people themselves. While 81% of respondents say that businesses have a responsibility to be transparent when posting on social media, just 66% concur with respect to friends and family. In other words, brands are being held to a higher standard than the people who want their transparency.

(And another quick note before moving on: just 57% feel that celebrities have a responsibility to be transparent. That’s an interesting one in light of the influencer marketing trend.)

How to Demonstrate Transparency on Social Media?

Given that there are rewards for brand transparency on social – 53% would consider a transparent brand for their next purchases, and 42% would recommend them to friends and family – it’s certainly worth a look at the actions that demonstrate transparency.

The following have the broadest levels of agreement among respondents:

  • Admitting mistakes (61%);
  • Honest responses to customer questions (58%);
  • Product/service pricing (45%); and
  • Manufacturing practices (43%).

In terms of topics that consumers want brands to be transparent about, respondents cited:

  • Product/service changes (53%);
  • Company values (53%);
  • Business practices (50%);
  • Company policy changes (49%); and
  • Employment practices (46%).

CEOs Can Have An Impact

While few CEOs of large companies are on social media, CEOs can help personalize a brand and increase its transparency, according to the report. Roughly 4 in 10 respondents feel that CEOs with personal profiles are more accessible (39%), approachable (37%) and human (37%) than those without a personal profile.

Survey respondents identified a range of social content from CEOs that can positively impact their brand perception. Those include:

  • Reasoning for business decisions (84%);
  • Inside look at the company (82%);
  • Next steps after a brand crisis (81%);
  • A mistake the company made (73%); and
  • A mistake the CEO made (71%).

But while it’s true that there’s an upside to CEOs being on social media, there are certainly some risks too. Twitter, for one, can be grossly misused…

The full Sprout Social study can be downloaded here.

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