Transparency is a must…Even in Interviews?

Honesty, transparency, truth—Three words that we ingrain in our minds when it comes to business ethics and relationships. I have decided to relate this topic of transparency to the interviewing process as it pertains to my life right now.

This whole idea of selling and marketing yourself to a company has me questioning my personal level of transparency. I am continuously instructed to turn any negative into a positive. You never want to show a potential employer a weakness, which I don’t necessarily see as being a transparency issues. What I disagree with is this concept of contrived responses to generic interview questions:

Interviewer: “What is your greatest weakness?”

Interviewee: “ Well I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. When working on a project it might take me a little longer to finish because I have to make sure it is perfect before handing it over.”

If I was interviewing a person and that was their response, I would assume that they turned their negative, which could be procrastination, into a more positive response: perfectionism. To me, a formulated response is not transparent and to be honest, shows a lack of confidence in that person’s capabilities.

I was thinking of what my “ideal” response to the weakness question would be and I came up with something nontraditional that, in all reality, might get me into trouble but would be 100 percent truthful.

Interviewer: “So Mariah, what would you say is your biggest weakness?”

Me: Hmm…Well that would have to be my left hand lay-in! (hopefully get a laugh or I might be screwed.) As a PR professional I find that question interesting because I probably have a contrived response: We, as PR pros, should always be prepared with our own personal crisis communication responses. However, I can tell you that I know I am not perfect but I am a dedicated and determined individual. Whatever it is that I might lack superior skills in I make sure to seek out a mentor to improve on them.”

I, if you don’t know me, tend to be a very upfront and honest person: I tell it like I see it. I like people to know, when appropriate, what I am thinking. I also feed off of other peoples thoughts and ideas, which often times leads me to ask the question why: the slightest bit of healthy cynicism. I ask the question, why do we feel the need to make our selves sound even better than we already are? As a society, we tend to discredit ourselves when we feel inferior.  I have learned that my talents combined with an approachable personality can speak a lot for my work ethic and I (as well as you) should have confidence in those abilities and skills.

To me, giving a potential boss an elaborated response seems to be the opposite of transparent in an ever-evolving transparent industry. I certainly don’t want to revert to the “spin doctor” days. I want a company to hire me because of my creativity, personality and talent, which I do have, not because I was able to give perfectly contrived responses to a set of standardized interview questions.


Social Media Transparency

I have been absent for a few months now I know! Senior year has been busy, busy, busy. I just wanted to let you know that I have a guest post on the student run public relations agency blog, Allen Hall Public Relations. It is called Transparency is not the Exception, it’s the Rule. It is a follow-up to my previous transparency post to re-iterate the importance of being up-front and honest when using social media as a communication tactic.

I will be more present in the coming weeks, I promise.

Spit it out!


Don’t be afraid to say stupid ideas because they might lead to a genius idea. One of the benefits of working at a combined advertising, design and pr agency is the creativity and artistic projects. There is a lot of brainstorming involved in advertising and design. On my first day, I was asked to join in on one of these sessions. I had no idea what to expect, so for the most part I just sat there and took it all in. They were throwing out all sorts of crazy ideas that didn’t make any sense to me, but I learned that not making sense didn’t really matter. One of the owners is really big on lessons and figuring out what we can take away from each client or situation. The lesson he repeats most often is you have to get the stupid ideas out in order to find the brilliant ones. He believes that you will spend more time trying to come up with just one brilliant idea than you would if each person could spit out 15 horrible ones and go from there.

During my time here I have learned that there are two different thinking processes: Creative and logistical. Planning a complex task for me is more difficult than figuring out the overall concept and tone of a project. I would much rather carry out the plan than be the one to write out every single detail. I love brainstorming, but I am not a huge fan of researching the small details. It has been exciting exploring a side of my brain that I honestly didn’t think existed. I always used to say that I didn’t have a artistic bone in my body, which is true when it comes to drawing, but my imagination is still pretty wild.

Overall, I have learned to just spit out the stupid ideas as long as you can give a brief description of where you were going with the idea people will respect it. It’s better to have a few stupid ideas that led to a brilliant one than it is to just sit there and add nothing to the meeting.

More interesting intern experiences to come…

My Life as an Intern



*  For confidentiality purposes I am not going to talk about specific clients. I will write about things that I learn and share certain experiences that will help fellow or future interns. I hope you find this information helpful and possibly entertaining.

As I entered the building on my first day I was drawn to the catchy slogans and eye-grabbing décor. I didn’t quite know what to expect as I walked in at 8:14 a.m. Monday morning.  I noticed that I was the only person there– I was 15 minutes early. So, I sat down in the waiting area trying to appear composed and self-assured, while in reality I was sweating bullets and was trying not to forget my advisors name. I usually don’t get nervous when meeting with people, but this was my first day as an actual public relations intern and I felt like this was going to be eight weeks of interviewing; in addition to making copies, answering the phone, making coffee, and editing. In this economy it is in your best interest to network like hell and work above and beyond the bare minimum, so people remember you and are willing to refer you, and if you’re lucky maybe they will even hire you.

The first week was a little slow. People were still getting used to the idea that they had someone they could push their tedious work onto. Week one was filled with media contact lists and sitting in on strategy meetings. I am not complaining, but I was getting nervous that they might not have work for me. Wrong! Week two came, and all of a sudden people where asking me to join meetings with new clients and write news releases about  an upcoming grand opening. I was ecstatic! Then I had about 10 minutes to think about all the jobs I was given, and the amount of responsibility the agency was entrusting in me. I started to hyperventilate (not really, but my brain felt like it was). I completed a lot of research for new clients, which included looking into possibilities for special events, searching for potential sponsors, and brainstorming ideas for promotional event activities. Soon it was time to write the news release. I am confident in my ability to write a catchy news release, but this was not an assignment I could get back from my teacher and correct the suggested edits. I was told to write it and send it to the client for their comments. I went back to the basics and just started typing. I sent it to the client and to my surprise he loved it! My boss came up to the receptionist- who sits right next to me- and said: “We got a good one this time. I am going to use her for a lot of projects, she is talented!” Not to sound arrogant or pat myself on the back, but I have to give myself some credit. I passed the pop quiz and was now a trusted intern! You have to trust that you have the skills and be confident in your work; otherwise, they might regret hiring you.

Words of “Wisdom” from a fellow Intern

For the record, my daily tasks do not involving getting coffee, answering phones (mostly because I don’t know how) making copies or anything like that. This is a misconception, or at least it is at this agency. I actually do “work” for clients. I would suggest, to any of you who are interning while not getting paid and doing things like getting coffee, to talk with your advisor and ask for more challenging tasks. If they are not willing to help you I would question why they hired you as an intern.  Interns are there to help the office but also to learn. This doesn’t mean if there is no coffee that you can’t make some, or if there are copies that need to be made you refuse to do them, I am just saying that if you are not given the chance to work on projects then you are not gaining any experience and are basically volunteering to be an assistant. Most places are more than willing to help; sometimes it might require you stepping up and asking for work. Internships can be scary, but if you don’t take full advantage of the opportunity you might miss out on a future job, or a great reference.

Lesson # 1

Do your research. To help in figuring out the writing style of both the agency I intern for and the client I went through the company files and read old releases and material. As an intern you need to be able to figure out basic tasks on your own. The advisors are busy and having an intern requires a little extra work on their part, so constantly asking questions is not a good idea. That is not to say that you should never ask for help; you are an intern for a reason, if you don’t know how to do something definitely ask someone for help. The advisors are more than willing to help; you just want to demonstrate that you can be an independent learner as well. Good luck and I would love to hear about other internship experiences.

Nonprofits and social media, do they mix?


I recently asked the CEO of a community foundation if  her organization used social media, and if so how. She replied, “Well, we have a blog.” Granted, the blog was one of the first breakthroughs that let citizen journalists create their own content, but if blogs are the only channel your organization thinks about for social media, think again.

In my previous blog posts, I talk about Twitter, building online communities, developing a social media plan, and how to measure social media initiatives. These strategies apply to all companies, including nonprofits.

As the nonprofit sector becomes increasingly complex and money grows tighter, it’s more important now than ever to brand your organization, programs and campaigns. This requires conveying credibility and value in a way that’s easy to remember and repeat. In doing this, your organization can build long-lasting relationships with donors, volunteers, community members and the media.

Beth Dunn writes about the pressure that nonprofits may be feeling amid the social networking phenomenon:

“Nonprofits all around us are making decisions right now about how to engage in social networks, and many of us in the field have to fight a desperate feeling of running hard just to keep up – the overwhelming conviction that everybody else is winning friends, donors, hearts and minds through the savvy use of social networking sites, and that we are missing out.”

Nancy Shwartz outlines how to brand a nonprofit organization through social media:   

1.   What a nonprofit brand is not:

  • A nonprofit brand is not what your organization stands for in the mind of your network.
  • A nonprofit brand is not your organization’s self-image, mission or logo.

2. What’s a nonprofit brand?

The intersection of…

  • What’s unique about the way your organization does its work and its impact.
  • The interests and needs of your network.

The brand that represents your organization must be authentic, or you run the risk of undermining everything your organization is trying to accomplish. Most people can sense when an organization is being fake and lacking transparency.

3. Branding is…

  • The art of creating a consistent, recognizable and clearly unified voice or personality that conveys your organization’s focus, credibility and unique contributions.

This is important when engaging with audiences, because it allows them to put a “face” to the organization. It helps build trust and promotes long-lasting relationships.

4. Why branding matters:

  • More and more nonprofits are looking to secure contributions, volunteers, board members, clients and customers.
  • The shortage in resources creates a heated competition.

If your organization doesn’t participate in the conversation through social media channels, competitors and people who are against your organization can fill that space with the wrong information. If your organization is present and engaged, people can ask questions and receive valid information.

5. How branding works:

A strong brand makes a substantial difference in developing and maintaining strong relationships with a network.

  • Strengthen or design your brand to ensure you stand out.
  •  Generate action and build loyalty with your audience.
  • Be consistent with your brand to build recognition and avoid confusion.

Now that you have an understanding of how to brand your organization online, it is imperative that you go out and find the tools to effectively market your organization. In some of my earlier posts you can read about how to create a community online, how to measure effectiveness, and how to develop a plan, and find links to other helpful sites. 

Social media is a good idea for any organization as long as it is committed to listening, learning and adapting while remaining transparent and authentic. Also, don’t be afraid to let go of control: become a participant.

Read Lisa Barone’s “Outspoken Media” for a list of social media channels that are useful for nonprofits.

Transparency: How to Become a Transparent Organization

2910831531_67dcd2bac5“ Transparency often leads you to the right path. What is the worst-case scenario with transparency? You’re being honest and saying things that are real — the right outcome is eventually going to come out of that.”Dave Balter, Founder and CEO of BzzAgent

I was inspired by a discussion we had about transparency in my Strategic Social Media class with Paull Young. Young believes that transparency is important because, “Trust is too important to play around with.” That statement should resonate with all businesses, and people for that matter.

Businesses are fighting for trust from their intended audiences. Shel Holtz and John Havens, authors of “Tactical Transparency,” state that the realities associated with doing business in today’s “business environment have emerged as the result of recent trends: Declining trust in business as usual and the increased public scrutiny under which companies find themselves thanks to the evolution of social media.” It is important, now more than ever, for organizations to use tools successfully to be sincerely but prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders.

Tactical Transparency adopted the following definition for transparency:

Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics:

  • Its leaders: The leaders of transparent companies are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences.
  • Its employees: Employees or transparent companies are accessible, can reinforce the public view of the company, and able to help people where appropriate.
  • Its values: Ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display in transparent companies.
  • Its culture: How a company does things is more important today than what it does. The way things are done is not a secret in transparent companies.
  • The results of its business practices, both good and bad: Successes, failures, problems, and victories all are communicated by transparent companies.
  • Its business strategy: Of particular importance to the investment community but also of interest to several other audiences, a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions. Misalignment of a company’s strategy and investors’ expectations usually result in disaster.

Transparency is no longer an option. No matter how hard you try to hide something, the truth will always be revealed. It is in the company’s best interest to behave ethically and talk openly.

Companies should be well aware that no organization can avoid implementing the tools that will help create better dialogue with customers, partners, and employees. While using these tools, especially online, it is imperative to remain transparent and honest throughout all initiatives. To ensure that your company is transparent the first thing you need to do, as an organization, is assess the situation.


What communication tools are in place that can capture employee ideas? It is important to create an environment that invites and encourages internal dialogue. Do employees feel that their opinions and concerns matter and are there tools that easily allow employees to communicate thoughts and ideas? These questions are important in gauging how near or far an organization is to providing a welcoming and open environment for employees.

Adjust the Culture:

Transparency within an organization takes time and must involve every employee. This meaning that the CEO doesn’t need to be the one blogging or creating interactive media, but they do need to condone the process and be open to allowing employees within the company to produce these materials. Teaching executives how to feel comfortable with sharing information that previously was not talked about is a difficult task but a necessary one.

“I think the thing people really need to know about this is that transparency is sort of a long-term cause. It is not “flip the switch tomorrow morning and everybody gets what the reality needs to be.”

How Open is Right for You?

According to J.D. Lasica, cofounder of and the Social Media Group, there are three levels of transparency that an organization should consider when trying to achieve tactical transparency.

  1. Operational Transparency: That involves creating or following an ethics code, conflict-of-interest policies, and any other guidelines your organization creates. Check out WOMMA for a list of questions and recommendations.
  2. Transactional Transparency: This type of strategy provides guidelines and boundaries for employees so they can participate in the conversation in and out of the office. Can they have a personal blog that discusses work-related issues?
  3. Lifestyle Transparency: This is personalized information coming from sites like Facebook and Twitter. These channels require constant transparency and authenticity.

Most importantly, identify areas of the organization that shall remain private. Things kept private should only remain that way to maintain confidentiality. Typical examples of items that companies should not reveal include

  • Financials
  • Proprietary information
  • Personal information

Establish Your Voice:

Tactical Transparency lists varied views on both objective and subjective journalism. Whatever your organization adopts as its communications “voice,” it needs to be consistent. You need to demonstrate to employees and customers that you’re speaking truth and not just saying what people want to hear or what you want them to believe. “If you are not honest about where you’re coming from, customers will know it and likely never come back.”

Create an Action Plan:

Holtz and Havens outline specific situations where tactical transparency can transform a business:

  • Crises
  • Major change initiatives
  • Financial matters
  • Media interaction
  • Employee interaction with the outside world
  • Accessibility of management to strategic publics

For each situation, figure out how to incorporate a plan of action while remaining transparent.

Monitoring a business’ reputation can be a great opportunity to listen to those impacted or interested in your business. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, it gives your business a chance to react quickly.

Tactical Transparency outlines in detail how to achieve transparency in an organization. This  relevant and pertinent topic will continue to be of great importance.

Interesting articles to check out:

Social media transparency: How realistic is it?

What Happens When Transparency Goes Wrong?

Developing a Social Media Plan


As I uncover new information about social media, I become more enthralled by all it has to offer. Web 2.0 is quickly evolving and a growing number of businesses are showing interest and wanting to get involved. In a few of my classes we discuss the social media faux pas committed by companies, followed by a discussion about what could have been done to prevent the unintended outcome.

In my Strategic Social Media Class we discuss how to develop a social media plan. I thought this was a relevant discussion for students about to enter the work force, as well as all public relations and marketing professionals.

When creating a social media campaign or any type of marketing campaign, it is a good idea to check its relevance, ethical nature and likelihood to be accepted by the intended audience. Companies often get into trouble when they rush through the planning process without combing through the specifics and discussing any areas that might garner negative attention. If you create a concrete campaign, it is likely that you will prevent a crisis and diminish negative attention.

Once you have the idea and content for the campaign, you need to structure a strategic plan to get some attention. Great content without a plan might garner some attention, but an effective plan can maximize the traffic volume and help you reach a more targeted audience. The plan should outline what type of content to develop, the audience you want to attract, where to promote it, and how to keep people engaged. Here is a worksheet from the Social Media Conference NW: The New Word-of-Mouth Marketing.

Kelli Matthews outlines the steps involved in Social Media Planning:

1. Analysis of the Situation: Know the company’s background and history as it relates to social media. Figure out certain staff expertise, availability and willingness to participate. This is important because it allows you to structure the plan around the time commitments. Research external factors like industry trends, built-in communities and willingness and likelihood of participation. Survey the channels of communication the company is currently using and what degree of success it is receiving.

2. Groundswell P.O.S.T. method:

People: Find out who your audiences are. Use Groundswell’s Social Technographics Profile to figure out what type of social media consumer your customers are.

Objectives: Figure out what it is that you want to accomplish in the “Groundswell.”

Strategies: Listening, talking, energizing, supporting, embracing.

  • Listen to your potential audiences. Before your company can be a part of the conversations, you need to know what people are already talking about so you can determine how your company can best contribute. Setting up tools to monitor conversations is easy. The difficult part is choosing keywords that will return the most usable results. Use tools like Social Media Firehose: Kingsley Joseph used Yahoo Pipes to create one RSS feed that aggregates results from Flickr, Digg, YouTube, FriendFeed and other social media sites.
  • Start leaving comments (talking) on blogs and building a community on Twitter and/or Facebook to further help the discussion and illustrate your company’s commitment to developing online relationships.
  • Energize your audience and your initiative. Figure out who your key audience is, see what their issues are and capitalize on them. Pick a channel that fits with the demographic and stick with it.
  • Support your audience with valuable information, easy access and open conversations.
  • Embrace your audience. Give them a place to discuss issues, provide suggestions and provide feedback on new products. Embracing customers’ ideas is a great way to build and retain relationships.

Technologies: Pick the communication channels that will best reach your audience like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Timeline: Include timelines for both short- and long-term objectives. Answer questions like, “What do you want to gain? How many people do you want to attract?” Remember that it takes time but if you allow the online community to grow and continuously monitor and engage with customers, you should be satisfied with the results.

Companies that develop a plan and create a social media initiative will have a better sense of how they are perceived by their target audiences. They can establish a two-way dialog with key members and they will empower their customers to speak with them, not at them. But, without a strategic approach to social media, it’s difficult to succeed.