Radical Transparency at Bullhorn Live

(Feb 05, 2009) I got back from the Bullhorn Live (User’s conference) late yesterday afternoon. Las Vegas remains the same. Bullhorn, however is really experimenting with some interesting things. Fresh from a $26 Million Venture Capital infusion, the company is out to develop a category killing scale and footprint.

They invited Bill Vick, Jason Davis and me to attend as social media people. The idea was that we were to blog and twitter (that still sounds adolescent to me) as the spirit moved us. Yes, they said, we know you might write things we don’t like. Bullhorn paid our expenses (hotel and conference fees) but paid no actual money for our participation.

It was a brave move by a little company. At $20M (ish) in revenue with 1,400 customers and 14,000 users, Bullhorn is sitting on the edge of the big time. The company is really good at taking calculated risks. Inviting social media players into their user’s conference really sets them apart from the pack.

These days, I’m perusing a new book called Radically Transparent. It’s a quick look at the future of online branding and reputation management. Getting the bloggers into the tent is step one. The rest of it is dealing with the monster that has already been unleashed.

The consequences of “citizen journalism” are vast. Old ways of managing PR and inciting the market are quickly fading from the marketer’s arsenal. “Radical Transparency” is not an optional posture; it’s the way of the future. For an operation like Bullhorn, “Radical Transparency” is the ticket to a powerful future. It’s also the only way to avoid a growth plateau.

In the old days, a company could simply do whatever it felt like. Unifying the brand behind a single, tightly controlled message was the very essence of PR and marketing. All singers were on the same page in the hymnal.

Social media, blogging and the trench level freedom of the press that they represent changes everything. Criticism will come in from all corners. The very user base that has been the growth engine for today’s successes becomes a riskier, more vocal set of constituents. Accountability is harsher in a transparent community.

Jason Davis made a great contribution to this conversation. In his posting about the risk of being overmotivated, he raises useful questions about a keynote speech given at the Bullhorn conference. Motivational speakers, like Danny Cahill, rarely get taken to task for the views they express. The audience is charged at the end of the material and no questions are fielded. In the new environment, guys like that are going  to have to change the way that they work. Motivational talks with no feedback loop are a thing of the past.

For Bullhorn to make this sort of public critique possible shows me that they are on the right track. I am sure that there are some executives who will wish that Jason’s post was different. I know they will know better than to act on their impulses. Bullhorn’s shift to a platform strategy depends on diversity in the ecosystem it builds.


I’m on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Friendfeed. Catch up with me.


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