digital

Build back better with digital accountability

Author Toby Beresford says since lockdown digital tech has exploded, but what does this mean for brands?

When it comes to online, we all just fast forwarded. Nearly half of us are more comfortable with digital tech post lockdown and shopping online has exploded.  With this change, big tech has undoubtedly been a big winner.


What does this mean for our own brands which co-exist with big tech online?

Big tech platforms provide utility that brings multiple daily touch points with consumers - and that repetition builds trust. Our brands can’t achieve that level of cut through with our own repetitive messaging, we just sound noisy. We must find other ways to build trust that go beyond big tech’s offerings.

One area of weakness is a lack of transparency. For example:

  • The secretive formula of Google’s PageRank that determine the winners  and losers in search, 
  • NetFlix’s occasionally self serving recommendation algorithm or 
  • Curation biases inherent in Facebook’s opaque news feed algorithm.

The one thing big tech isn’t, right now, is accountable. We, their users, can’t interrogate the decisions made on our behalf and it sucks.

This presents brands looking to build back better, with a competitive opportunity to be more transparent - “digital accountability” offers a way to create deeper, trusted relationships with their audience. 

So how do we go about it?

Firstly we need to review our offerings against a very practical set of seven principles, designed by USACM and EUACM. The principles include auditability and a way for users to redress issues. Though I would expect each brand to tweak principles to their own context, I explained all seven at a recent talk, Algorithmic Accountability is coming if you’re interested to read more.

Then, once we’ve agreed to be digitally accountable, it’s then a case of putting it into practice. As we already know, great brand values only work if they are organisation wide. 

Here’s three places to consider:

1/ When publishing a Top Ten list, of any kind, always explain your method: Why is this the top ten? What criteria did you use to make the cut? How are they ranked? What is the score? If it’s subjective, expert opinion, then simply say so. 

2/ Providing a "why am I being shown this" algorithmic accountability button on your digital properties. As an example, one media customer of mine, Magic Freebies, shows consumers a personalised home page. They offer an “explain this” button, for advertising clients to get a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the algorithm. They see why each offer is placed where it is.  If you are making recommendations anywhere digitally, then an “explain this” button becomes a clear signal that you care to be trustworthy online.

3/ Internally too, we can opt for more digital accountability, particularly with staff and suppliers we are managing. Too often staff are measured and scored in an opaque way, management spreadsheets and HR dashboards just aren’t shared. Staff are expected to improve in the dark. Showing staff their score in a way that allows them to interrogate their own performance is digital accountability in action. PWC do this with their “PWC Global Power 100” leaderboard showing who’s generating the most engagement among staff on Twitter. Getting staff scorecards right is of course fraught with pitfalls, that’s one of the reasons I wrote “Infinite Gamification: motivate your team until the end of time” (Reviewed in the Marketing Society Book Club) - it’s actually easy for any manager to do as long as you approach it with the right mindset. 


This will all increase digital accountability and with it increase customer trust.

What digital accountability principles will you adopt to build back better?