Tactical Transparency

Tactical Transparency:  How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media To Maximize Value And Build Their Brand

By Shel Holtz and John C. Havens

In 2008, musician Dave Carroll was waiting to deplane from a United Airlines flight when he heard another passenger say, “They’re throwing guitars out there!” He looked out to see baggage handlers tossing expensive musical instruments, breaking his $3500 guitar. After getting runaround from United, he finally decided to put his story to music and release a video trilogy on YouTube and his website. After four days, over a million people had watched the video. United’s stock declined 10%, losing about $180 million in value, and the company finally paid Carroll’s claim for the damage. (For more on the story and its aftermath, see this article from Fast Company.)


We’ve probably all seen the emails, watched the videos, or heard the audios in which a clueless or uncaring company drives a customer to fury — fury that produces a social media backlash. In the old days, we’d have been limited to telling a few friends (studies show that on average we tell seven others about negative experiences and tell only three about positive ones), and they’d tell a few friends, and the word would get out…Slowly, and in limited distribution. Today, though, as Tactical Transparency describes, feedback can spread like wildfire, and corporations’ only choice is to how to handle that feedback.

Tactical Transparency
opens with one story about Sony’s having launched a blog purportedly written by a boy named Charlie who wanted to help his friend Jeremy get a PSP for Christmas. Readers quickly discovered that the blog was the creation of a marketing agency and lambasted it as lame and offensive, though Sony denied the deception until it finally had to own up to it. A second story describes a blogger who wrote a series of posts describing his problems with Dell’s computer service and technical support. His odyssey was followed by hundreds and Dell’s reputation (and stock price) suffered, until Dell saw the light and launched its own blog, Direct2Dell, which talked openly about problems and worked to resolve them. Unlike Sony, Dell’s reputation improved as a result.


The message: people — your customers and clients and those considering doing business with you will talk, and you’d better listen and respond. Though the facts are considerably different, this message is illustrated in the legal community through the many blog sites and posts that tracked layoffs last year and accused firms of conducting “stealth layoffs”. It’s continuing now in discussions about which firms are cutting salaries and how much. There’s been much speculation that some firms will be impacted by reduced loyalty from lawyers who watched colleagues sent packing and from law students who take the lessons of the last two years as an indication that they’d better keep their options open and trust nothing. And it goes both ways, as witnessed by lawyers and summer associates who’ve left their own career-tanking tracks in unflattering emails that can be sent around the world with just a few clicks.


The authors of Tactical Transparency suggest that the new reality of transparency has arisen thanks to the twin trends of declining trust in “business as usual” and the rising public scrutiny of business due to social media. Tactical Transparency goes to the heart of the matter, examining the practical steps a business can take to be “sincerely but prudently” transparent with its stakeholders about its leaders; its employees; its values; its culture; the results of its business practices; and its business strategy. The authors identify four characteristics of transparency, which may be applied in varying degrees to meet varying needs: Objectivity, Purpose, Esteem (for your stakeholders and your customers) and Navigation, which neatly form the acronym OPEN.


Tactical Transparency discusses transparency in a variety of contexts, many of which are applicable to lawyers, but I’d highlight one as being particularly critical: relationship orientation. In other words, at least in part due to the rise of social media, business must look at the clients or customers in the context of relationships rather than one-off transactions. This is certainly a key concept for lawyers whose clients may have more than one legal need that they (or their firms) might meet. Tactical Transparency recommends eight steps to design relationship-focused marketing:

  1. Get specific. Make sure your comments connect with this potential client and ensure that you understand his or her specific situation.
  2. Make small talk big. Lawyers sometimes wonder how much to ask in the context of growing a relationship.  Small talk is the starting point.
  3. Make your pitch interactive. Don’t tell a potential client how you’ll solve the problem.  Have a conversation about possible approaches and solicit input.
  4. Give a call to action. This is marketing language for requesting a next step, and it can be as simple as offering to sit down and discuss how some event or legal development might impact your potential client’s situation and how you might help.
  5. Write down a connection point. The authors suggest that you demonstrate that you listened and tried to help with something not directly connected to a sale.  If that’s not applicable (because sometimes your conversations will be quite sharply focused on the legal needs), simply demonstrate that you listened intently and how you’ve connected your background or approach to the potential client’s needs.
  6. Practice good timing. There’s an art to finding how to move a conversation forward without pushing it.  Learn and apply that art.
  7. Follow up.
  8. Partnering versus closing. Think of working together with a client to achieve identified objectives rather than landing a new client.  The distinction may be subtle, but the transparency you demonstrate in placing your focus on the service to this specific client will bolster your relationship.  Moreover, in my experience, it’s also likely to increase your willingness to engage rainmaking activities.

Although the key lesson I draw from Tactical Transparency has to do with business development, the book is wide-ranging in its discussion of social media and its applicability to business. If you participate in any kind of social media or if you’re considering stepping into the world of social media, this book will provide plenty of brain candy as you think about building your reputation with new social platforms.

Don’t Make This Mistake!

This week, I’m jumping up on a soapbox. LinkedIn is the professional social networking platform for many lawyers, and I firmly believe that every lawyer must have a profile on the site. Most lawyers can benefit from actually using the site, but even if that isn’t the right fit for you today, having a profile and building a network of connections on LinkedIn will bring some benefits to you.


LinkedIn is a good place not only to collect your connections, but also to expand your network by reaching out to new connections. I’ve noticed that a lot of lawyers are making faux pas in the way they’re using LinkedIn to meet new people. Watch this video (it’s less than two minutes) to find out how you can take just a little extra time to build a much stronger network.


Mix Work & Play for Fun & Profit

Clients often tell me that they socialize with friends and acquaintances who would make wonderful clients and/or referral sources. And yet, no one wants to be
that awful person who’s always shilling for business from social contacts, missing the “leave me alone” vibes.

But what a waste to nod along with a zipped lip when you might be able to benefit your contact and yourself by bringing business into the conversation. We’ve all had the experience of wishing we could turn up some help with a thorny issue, and if you can offer the help, shouldn’t you?

The truth is that it’s easier to stay silent and avoid any chance of giving offense. But what if you could briefly share what you do and suggest that you might be able to help, then turn back to pure socializing?

Mastering that art will benefit you, in getting a new opportunity, and benefit your contact, in finding a useful resource. So, how can you talk business at a social gathering without risk?


  1. Discover the opportunity. When you hear something that makes you think you might be able to help, listen for whatever your contact is sharing.
  2. Share your observation. Whether you’re talking to your best friend or a complete stranger, there’s a good chance that she doesn’t know or hasn’t realized that what she’s discussing has any overlap with your practice.

    Your comment can be as quick as, “You know, I handle issues like that for my clients all the time.”
    Or in a referral-related setting, perhaps you’d say, “It sounds like there’s some overlap in the kinds of clients we serve (or issues we address).”
  3. Watch the reaction. You may get an unmistakeable “tell me more” signal that invites you to proceed with business conversation right then. Or you might get a polite, “Oh, is that so.”
  4. Offer to meet at another time to talk about your shared interests. Even if the person with whom you’re talking wants to go into a deeper business conversation on the spot, I suggest that you make an appointment to meet at a later time for that conversation.

    By doing so, you’ll separate business from social conversation, avoid having someone overhear a private conversation, and eliminate the risk of offering free, off-the-cuff advice.
    Even if you agree to step outside the party or to move to your host’s home office, be sure to create a physical separation.

    A simple invitation is sufficient, such as “This isn’t really the time or place, but I’d love to talk with you and see if I might be able to help with that.”
    You’ll gauge your next steps (exchanging cards, setting an appointment to talk again, or moving to another location) based on your contact’s response.
  5. Approach the business conversation as an extension of a social relationship. Even though you’ve moved to separate the business context from the social, your conversation will likely retain some familiarity. At the same time, your business relationship must exist apart from a social relationship, and it’s likely up to you to set the appropriate professional boundaries.

As you move into summer socializing (whether that’s now or in six months from now), look for opportunities to spring from pure social contacts into business, and look with a light touch. When done deftly, you’ll find that all of your relationships benefit as a result.

Get Out Of The Office!

The more senior and sophisticated your professional roles, the more likely your best thoughts about work won’t happen at work! They may happen on the vacation.  And invariably people meet others to expand their network, and get new ideas and good information while socializing. And if you’re traveling it’s great to keep track of places to go, things to do, in case you want to go there again.  If a key benefit of recreation is to get a fresh perspective, then protect your investment and be ready to take advantage of its outputs.

~David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (if the thought of vacation is stressful because you go away physically but stay so connected to the office that you don’t feel refreshed, download Allen’s short article Vacation — Managing Work or Not? It’s free, but you must register.

All intellectual improvement results from leisure.
~Samuel Johnson

Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation.  To remain constantly at work will diminish your judgment.  Go some distance away, because work will be in perspective and a lack of harmony is more readily seen.
~Leonardo DaVinci