Friday Rant: Giving the Court of Public Opinion a Chance with Social Media

When Bill Clinton consorted with his favorite intern in the Oval Office, was there any written rule against it? When UN procurement officials accepted favors and rewards from suppliers, did they deem them legitimate as part of the regular course of business in their personal and professional relationships? In both cases, there were two courts -- the court of public opinion and, of course, the legal court(s), both criminal and civil. In Bill Clinton's case, our former President did nothing prosecutable initially, but he went on to perjure himself in related matters by lying under oath, resulting in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. And we all know the story of how various parties at the UN went down. In each case, the court of public opinion mattered as much -- and had an impact on -- the actual courts (especially in Clinton's case). Dodging questions initially cost our former President dearly (but not as much as a divorce would have cost him if he had married a women without similar political ambitions).

In our professional lives, we should always consider how the court of public opinion can be at least as impactful as the legal courts -- perhaps more so when realizing how often the former precipitates the latter. Depending upon our public stature, appearances can matter as much as actions. How we handle ourselves in general, our reputation for being forthright, what our customers, business partners and professional colleagues think of us -- these all matter more than many of us acknowledge and in ways that we can't forecast or imagine for tomorrow.

In the coverage of CombineNet and Rearden Commerce this week, it's been great to see active participation from multiple parties. Even if lawyers had a hand in editing the posted comments (in reference to the CombineNet posts), how great is it to see participation, rather than obfuscation from all sides? I commend both Tony Bonidy and Sean Martyn for participating in the social media dialogue that a blog can enable, giving everyone a chance to form their own opinions rather than accepting or rejecting those that are thrust upon us by conventional media. And I commend Rearden's Patrick Grady for such a candid dialogue as well. Leaving opinion and news for a few reporters to sift through and decide what is ultimately made available does not serve the public -- nor business -- good.

Though I've only been working for fifteen years or so, I think one of the reasons that I've been at least marginally successful as a small time entrepreneur at a relatively young age (I went out on my own at age 29), is because people who have come to know me quickly see that I'm forthright in all my dealings. I like to call things out and share ideas. This, of course, says nothing about how well I might do something, mind you. We all make execution mistakes from time to time. But I've learned that the degree of directness one engenders with peers and colleagues goes a long way. Sometimes it can be contentious, but I've always found that it's the right thing to do.

With apologies to Shakespeare, being true to oneself certainly matters, but having a true and honest outward face matters just as much if not more so. We should commend everyone for playing a part in the dialogue this week. By giving the court of public opinion more options to make informed decisions, everyone wins -- without the spin.

Jason Busch

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