Are the websites the appropriate place to be casual or direct with customers? Or, should that be done in a direct letter to the customer?
Just how much information should corporations release about their financial dealings (and otherwise) to customers?
The Function of Corporate Communications
A corporate web presence is usually created to keep a line of communication open between the company’s customers or investors and the company’s executives. This can be as lengthy as several paragraphs or as short as one-liners (as in Tweets) or emails. In many cases, a company’s blog or website is the first place people will turn to in order to get a better idea about the company and their practices. Corporations can also use blogs to really gain strength in the marketplace and develop a strong presence in the minds of consumers.
Corporate blogs also serve to keep the public informed and abreast of what’s going on in a particular area of the company, or, about news developments and/or discoveries. Although blogs are generally positive in nature, there are instances where the blog may discuss issues that are uneasy or embarrassing to deal with. When, and if this happens, there must be some type of mechanism in place to deal with the situation and create the best possible outcome for the company, no matter what.
That Will Be $1 Please
American International Group (AIG) has been under heavy, heavy fire in recent months about their financial activity and their dire need to be bailed out of a particularly unpleasant and unpopular financial crisis. The mega-large U.S.-based insurance brokerage group was bailed out by the government to the tune of $150 billion not too terribly long ago. They have also been under heavy scrutiny for their various financial actions and activities and have tried to offer explanations for their activities via their website. Taking a look at the press release where AIG discuss the company’s finances, I noticed that AIG seems to try to answer the accusations and scrutiny by explaining (in detail) why they’ve decided to take action and what they expect to have happen as a result. This is ultimate corporate responsibility and excellent media relations because it shows that the company is not ignoring the pink elephant in the room, nor are they offering a myriad of excuses. They have responsibly faced what has happened and have addressed it directly. Whether using the website to discuss certain issues was a (opinion) mistake or not, AIG did quite well in facing the issues and answering to the public about their actions.
The news press release that announced that Mr. Liddy and other executives of AIG will not receive a salary (or a significantly reduced one) for the years of 2008 and 2009 shows not only an immense understanding of the company’s financial obligation, but also shows that the executive team understand and are sensitive to the company’s needs and the public’s perception of them as leaders. Did it work? Was that a good idea? Will it be effective and profitable for the company? No one has any way of really knowing how the entire situation will turn out. But, because the company’s top executive has decided to receive only a $1 salary for 2008 and 2009, and the company’s top managing executives are going to forego their annual bonuses, they are showing that the bailout will not be for naught. Discussing it affirms their intentions and shows everyone they’re serious.
But, On the Website?
Was AIG’s website the proper place to make such an announcement about the company’s decisions? Why wouldn’t it be? Actually, the site was the perfect place to make that type of announcement. Corporate media relations announcements are not meant only for journaling the company’s highs, profits, sales or growth. Well-presented corporate media relations announcements can help a company excel in the marketplace, whether things are favorable…or not. It is not the job, function or duty of a blog to only paint rosy pictures of the company. To do that could possibly backfire and cause other potential problems. And, in order to avoid said problems, companies should allow their communications to be transparent. However tact should be used in choosing the right words and tone for the media.
After reading about the salary decrease, you may perhaps find yourself thinking about just how serious a move that was for AIG and how serious they must be in getting the company back on track. So really, the website is the best place to make such an announcement. It is the best place to air the company’s “not-so-good” news. It is the best place to reach out to customers, outside media, investors and other interested parties. Hence, for AIG, discussing it on their website, in the open and upfront is going to be the best place to get their message out and convey their seriousness in the process.
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