A common refrain at HighEdWebDev2007 and other conferences I’ve attended recently has been the frustration many of us feel when trying to convince management that “radical transparency” is a good idea, that allowing students to blog without editorial oversight about what it’s really like to attend our institutions won’t be the end of civilization as we know it.

In Rochester, my colleague Jim Leous from Penn State provided more ammunition for making our point. The cover story in the April 2007 edition of Wired magazine was called The See-Through CEO and provided great examples of how the business world is coming to understand the power of the read/write web. As the inside cover says – “smart companies are sharing secrets with rivals, blogging about products in their pipeline, and even admitting their failures.” Here are some more outtakes from the article:

  • Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong.
  • Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you.
  • Transparency is a judo move. Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway, and your workers are going to blab about internal info – so why not make it work for you by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them to do so?
  • A generation has grown up blogging, posting a daily phonecam picture on Flickr and listing its geographic position in real time on Dodgeball and Google Maps. For them, authenticity comes from online exposure. It’s hard to trust anyone who doesn’t list their dreams and fears on Facebook.
  • Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system.
  • A single Google search determines more about how (companies) are perceived than a multimillion-dollar ad campaign.

It’s time higher education embraced radical transparency. Our communications goal should be dialogue, not monologue. Research has shown that the more you let your constituents talk amongst themselves, the more likely they are to listen to you. They will feel their voices are being heard which builds trust which in turn builds relationships.