One of the many mantras I talk about is "maintain an open and honest relationship". This goes for everyone involved in community work:
This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, it’s usually the first thing marketing folks forget when talking to community members – don’t lie, don’t spin. It’s really easy to take the easy way out and simply tweakk the facts or spin the truth in order to end the conversation. The reality is that any type of falsehood will be quickly discovered, since community members are a close knit and well connected bunch. And if they do catch you, any credibility you’ve built up with them is completely shot.
You’re probably thinking "I don’t lie to my colleagues and they don’t lie to me". That’s probably correct, or at least mostly. While you, the community liaison might not be lying, you might be altering the facts a bit. Community seems weird to co-workers who don’t work with community all day long. And community members can often do things that appear odd or weird (spending thousands of dollars on a "silly" collectible, for instance). If you’re not careful, you can find yourself presenting an unrealistic view of community to your co-workers by leaving things out or softening the weirdness. In the long run, that harms your efforts because you’re not properly preparing your co-workers for what they’ll soon see themselves. It’s much better to present the truth, even if odd, and follow-up with well thought out counterpoints to the "odd" behaviors.
On the other side of the coin, your colleagues might often withhold information from you, thinking that they’re protecting themselves and their marketing plans. As sad as it might be, community member and company employeed community liaison often get intertwined in the minds of marketers. Even though you colleagues might clearly understand that you both work for the same company, they may well hold back information to you in order to ensure that none of that info leaks outside company walls. It’s crucial that you repeat this phrase to your internal contacts over and over:
"I won’t share externally without consulting you, but colleague to colleague, I need all the facts so I can help develop the most effective plan for you".
Open and honest isn’t just about lies or lack thereof. It’s mostly about the free exchange of honest information. Look at what happens when Alaska Airlines employees tried to mask their identities by posting blog comments railing on a blogger who went through in-flight problems from their company computers.
Open and honest should be included in your new employee handbook and should be a mantra for company culture. This doesn’t mean that you should start sharing company secrets – quite the contrary. It means that if you can’t share company secrets, simply say that. It means employees need to understand that nothing they do is hidden or secret anymore. And it means that we all need to really stop and consider what’s really a "secret" and what’s simply bothersome to discuss.