Transparency is King

I apologize for the long delay between posts. A few weeks of traveling for work and a huge amount of work for grad school have set back my update schedule. But as Russell Casse said in Independence Day, “Hello boys. I’m baaaack.

So something happened about two weeks ago and I’ve been formulating a blog post about it in my mind ever since. charity: water, one of my favorite charities, and if you read my first post you know is the focus of a semester-long project for my Using Social and Digital Media class at Hopkins, was sued for fraud by one of their donors. The suit wasn’t so much what interested me as much as the response to the suit that charity: water issued.

One of the reasons I have admired this organization for years is their high degree of transparency in everything they do. Want to know where your donations are going? They’ll show you. How much of their funding goes to overhead costs? Their annual reports cover all those bases. Wonder what happens when a drilling expedition goes awry? They’ll show youthen they’ll go back until they’re successful.

The instance of the lawsuit was no different. Want to know why we were sued and what steps we’re taking to make sure issues like this don’t happen again? Let us tell you.

charity: water founder and President Scott Harrison issued a letter over their website that did all of those things and more: it started out by explaining the campaign that eventually led to the lawsuit, then explained the lawsuit, and ended with a list f things the organization has done and will do to avoid the problems that led to the lawsuit in the first place.

I am not going to go into the specifics of it, because, frankly, it doesn’t sound like the lawsuit holds water (admittedly, I am somewhat biased here. Also helps that charity: water is a trusted organization in my eyes and the eyes of charity watchdogs Charity Navigator). But what I do want to point out is the drastic difference in response by charity: water as opposed to a for-profit company like Pop Chips, who recently ran into a crisis of their own with a controversial viral video ad featuring Ashton Kutcher dressed as a Bollywood star.

When the Pop Chips video hit the internet it created quite a buzz. Broadcast and print news outlets covered the incident with a critical tongue. What’s worst, though, is that it took Pop Chips CEO Keith Belling nearly a week to respond and when he did, he did so in a 66-word blog post that was quickly buried on their company blog.

charity: water – quick response. Great SEO (a search of terms like “charity water lawsuit” brought back results all leading to the charity: water website – they got out ahead of the story and made sure they controlled what supporters and critics were finding on page 1 of their Google and Bing searches). They also responded where they knew a large number of people would see it.

In contrast, Pop Chips: waited days to respond (when a news cycle is 15 minutes long, days is an eternity). They had a horrible optimization strategy — a search of “Pop Chips Ad” brought back nothing by negative press page after page on both Google and Bing searches. And they responded on their company blog with a short post that was immediately buried by other posts. Any crisis management plan you read today will tell you to respond in the arena where the attack took place. In this case, they should have posted a video to YouTube with the CEO apologizing, and then titled and tagged the video as closely to the controversial ad as possible. This way anyone searching YouTube for “Pop Chips Ad” would have likely seen the apology higher up on the first page of the search.

It doesn’t matter if you run a non-profit organization or a for-profit business. Many of the elements of crisis management are the same. In my mind, transparency is King.  We should all take a page out of the charity: water playbook (and burn the Pop Chips game plan).

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome comments and thoughts as I’ve inevitably overlooked something worth mentioning here.

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