Tom Friedman's piece in today's New York Times is worth a read. He chronicles the efforts of two environmental group's use of the Internet to significantly impact the construction plans and $45 billion acquisition of a major Texas power company, TXU. "The Internet age is an age of transparency, when more people than ever can see right into your business and judge you by your deeds, not your words. TXU could not manage its reputation by just hiring a P.R. firm and issuing a statement - because, thanks to the Internet, too many little people could talk back or shape TXU's image on a global basis, for free."
Does this mean the P.R. business is living on borrowed time? It may for those that don't adjust. If your organization's P.R. efforts are limited to cranking out jargon filled press releases and briefings with core media contacts, you're going to have problems. But those P.R. firms and organizations that understand and embrace the new communication channels (blogs, podcasts, wikis etc.) opened up by the Internet will do well. These channels, which give voice to anyone that dares to speak out, force all of us to be ready to back up everything we say and do. The Age of Transparency may just as easily end up being called the Age of Accountability - and that would be a good thing.