Accountability and Reputation in the Internet Age

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    Like it or not, you will be held accountable for your actions

    The Internet has established a whole new level of accountability for major organizations. Which facts and figures see the light of day are no longer controlled by the companies involved, nor are they buried deep in financial journals your average person will never come across. Now, they’re published on highly visible, heavily trafficked websites and social media platforms around the ‘net.

    This month, SourceWatch, a wiki entirely aimed at keeping corporations accountable for sticking to their stated ideals. went after an organization that talks a big game but is rather murky when it comes to explaining just how it lives up to its promises – Walmart. Here are a few of the facts dug up and published on the site:

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that Walmart was responsible for $27 billion in U.S. imports from China in 2006 and the company’s imports between 2001 and 2006 led to the elimination of 200,000 U.S. jobs. Walmart continues to be the largest importer of goods in the United States, accounting for 1 in every 25 shipping containers brought into the country. Of the 1 million manufacturing jobs Walmart has said it will help create in the next decade, just over 2,000 were created in the first year – equivalent to 0.2% of the company’s commitment.

    Since 2005 – the year the company launched its “sustainability” campaign, Walmart’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown 14%. According to the Sierra Club, each of Walmart’s 3,200 supercenters uses as much energy each day as nearly 1,100 homes.

    In May 2013, Walmart announced a new initiative to offer jobs to veterans. The company later clarified with the New York Times that they could not guarantee that these jobs would be full-time. At the same time, Walmart will receive up to $9,600 in tax credits for each hired veteran, and has hired a recruitment process provider to screen veteran applications and determine the potential value of tax credits associated with each applicant.

    Of course Walmart is far from the only business that’s failing to live up to the lofty promises it’s made to placate critics or satisfy stakeholders, and Sourcewatch, and similar sites around the web, aren’t afraid to take them to task in a big way. From stoking negative sentiment to landing front-page search results that harm the companies named, these sites are taking dirty laundry out of the back room and putting it right where everyone can see.

    The way to avoid trouble like this is simple – walk your talk. If you strive to live up to your promises, and share what’s happened if you find you can’t, your reputation will be free to flourish. Say one thing and do another, however, and there’s a good chance you could wind up the center of the wrong kind of attention.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]