How Much Transparency Is Too Much?

Marketing podcast with Pat Flynn

Transparency is a business concept that’s been tossed around liberally these last few years. To some extent social media has forced organizations to be more transparent, because they no longer had the luxury of hiding behind press releases and company spokespersons.

I believe first and foremost in transparency in all things, but how far is too far? I’m not offering a prescription or solid opinion on that. For this post I want to start a discussion as much as anything.


photo credit: jah~ via photopin cc

I believe that transparency, sharing information, revealing the numbers, opening the books or whatever form it takes is a healthy core value and not a marketing play.

Internet marketers have often misused the power of transparency by attempting to “prove” how much money their system makes through the display of large checks and bank statements. This is precisely the manipulative guise of transparency I’m not talking about.

One of the truly innovative good guys in this space is my guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, Smart Passive Income creator Pat Flynn.

From the very beginning Pat has published his money making numbers in his monthly report as a way to validate the advice he is giving to others. Here’s where Pat is totally different than most and why he’s so immensely popular. Pat reports on how he does what he does, even when and as it doesn’t work as often as when it does. He refers to himself as a human crash dummy taking all the lumps and sharing in an often open and sometimes humorous way. Don’t get me wrong, Pats wins far outweigh his losses, but it’s this level of openness that has created a large, loyal and trusting community.

My interview with Pat is actually a ramble through a number of online topics, but I wanted to anchor it with the specific topic of transparency that has served him so well.

If information is power then when you share the information you spread the power and that’s one of the best ways to build a healthy internal culture. A healthy internal culture usually seeps out into the market and defines how the world sees your brand.

When everyone in an organization knows how much everything costs, how profit is made and how to save money or make money for the organization, they are better equipped to make decisions like an owner. Have you ever wondered why nobody cares about your business like you do? Maybe it’s because you know more about why you care, how you care and what difference you’re trying to make – have you shared that information?

I stared this post with a title that asked if you can share too much and I pose that question to you the reader really.

Buffer, an organization I’ve written about in the past, takes public transparency to a place few have. In addition to publishing goals and business performance updates, Buffer recently published how their salaries are determined and who, by name, makes what. This move created a tremendous amount of buzz both from those that thought it was bold and innovative and from those that thought it was reckless and overboard.

I believe that transparency along with consensus and autonomy are essential elements of any healthy business and wrestling with getting these elements just right is one of the greatest challenges that small business face.

So, now your turn. How do you make transparency work?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Stacey Herbert

    I think the whole “numbers transparency” approach was great when bloggers like Pat started doing it. Not to mention the fact that he has been consistent with it, so essential this transparency has become part of his brand. But so many people are doing poor imitations of it, and at times it can look desperate and copy-caty, rather than inspiring and valuable knowledge.

    I’d like to see more transparency where marketers talk about the sort of results they get (the wins and the fails), what tools they actually use and not just promote, and how exactly these tools/strategies help make their business more profitable and efficient.

    • Pat Flynn

      Stacey, the results, the wins and failures, ups and down and the ins and outs of what one is talking about is the most important part of this transparency equation. So many people go straight to the numbers, and I keep them there because of that and because I’ve been doing it for so long, but if you don’t have the case studies and share things that show how you got there, it definitely works against you.

      Some people come to my site and see the numbers and don’t believe it, or they even call me fake, which I’m not surprised by. Typically after they see the reports that go along with those numbers, or they get with my on Skype (which I’ve done a number of times), they realize it’s not fake.

      So why do I do it – why do I share the numbers? Well of course people talk about it, and I’m a marketer and know it’s something people are interested in, but even more than that, I’d rather be the one to capture people’s attention with the numbers and then be upfront with them and tell them like it is (it takes a frikin’ load of hard work and time), than to have someone else take advantage of them by show numbers and selling them something based on hype instead of something real, if that makes sense.

      I’m going to be on a flight and out of the country soon so I won’t be able to reply right away, but I’ll check back later in case there’s a more in depth discussion happening that I can add to. Thanks for sharing this John! It’s definitely an important topic of discussion!

      • ducttape

        Thanks Pat – I certainly tried to make this point in the post but you’ve certainly added a great deal of color to the mix.

  • Sahail Ashraf

    I agree with Stacey on the problem. It’s hard to trust even Pat with his figures because a hundred other people are doing it on a fake level. I know Pat is real and transparent, but would the average guy who doesn’t know what he does feel the same way.

    Case studies are the very best kind of transparency as part of marketing. Showing, rather than telling, what you do and how it has provided value is about as transparent as you can get?