Is your website transparent enough?

Websites can be much more than simply a pretty face for a company or organization.

Websites can be much more than simply a pretty face for a company or organization. While most cover the basics – the “who we are” and “what we do” – consumers today are asking for a deeper dive and websites can serve as a valuable resource that helps earn their trust.

In fact, websites are the top source for food system information, according to the latest research from The Center for Food Integrity, and provide opportunities to give consumers the transparency they expect – and deserve – from today’s food system.

“Specifically, consumers want to see concrete examples on websites of ‘practices,’ which CFI’s research shows is most important to demonstrating transparency,” said J.J. Jones of CFI. “Why? Because practices are a reflection of internal motivation. They demonstrate values in action.”

And demonstrating shared values is the foundation for building trust, according to CFI’s trust model.
In other words, it’s not just what you say you do, it’s what you’re actually doing that demonstrates values and establishes trust, he said.

So how can you enhance your website to boost transparency?

Use video
Short of giving an in-person tour, there’s no better way to illustrate practices than through video, especially when it comes to challenging topics that may be difficult to address. Provide context and share your values – or the greater good – around the practice. For example, illustrate how it benefits people, animals or the environment. Keep videos short – one to three minutes – to accommodate shrinking attention spans.

Effective videos that address animal well-being topics include this series from Phibro Animal Health featuring a veterinarian explaining why antibiotics are used on the farm and a piece from www.drink-milk.com that explains why dehorning is used and puts in context a procedure that might otherwise be misunderstood.

The Hershey Co. puts its practices into action through the Simple Ingredients video series. “Our Story of Almonds” is just one of many Hershey videos featuring employees who tell the story behind the products. Video is effective but can be expensive. Keep in mind, videos don’t have to be highly produced to have impact. If done well, raw video shot on an iPhone can work.

Also, consider sharing existing content from other sites. For example, CFI’s www.BestFoodFacts.org features videos with third-party experts answering consumer questions. Perhaps you belong to an organization or association that produces video content you can use. Great photos with well-written descriptions that paint a picture work, too.

Highlight third-party verification
If it applies, feature third-party verification or audit information. This verifies that you’re actually following through with your practices. CFI’s latest transparency research examined six areas important to consumers: food safety, impact of food on health, environmental impact, animal well-being, labor and human rights and business ethics. Consumers feel a higher level of comfort knowing that a credible, objective third-party confirms your practices in these six areas – especially when it comes to food safety and animal well-being.

The new Veal Farm website includes a prominent link at both the top and bottom of its home page to information about the Veal Quality Assurance program in which it participates, showcasing the program’s high standards and history.

No auto-reply, please
Engagement is vital when it comes to transparency. CFI’s research shows that consumers want the ability to engage on websites and get their questions answered promptly, individually and in easy-to-understand language. The generic auto-reply or canned response isn’t enough. No matter what segment of the food system – food company, retailer, restaurant, grocer, farmer or rancher – responsiveness is an expectation.  

"We welcome consumer questions and have made significant investment to ensure we are responsive,” said Warren Harper, senior vice president of Phibro Animal Health, which participated in a beta test of CFI’s proprietary transparency measurement tool, the Transparency Index. "That's why it was helpful to undergo CFI's transparency review. We learned our strengths and some opportunities to engage more fully. What we see from the inside can be different from an external view and the index gave us that perspective, enabling us to increase responsiveness to both customers and consumers."

Monsanto hosts a website called The Conversation. “Consumers can directly engage, ask a question and we’ll answer it,” said Aimee Hood, regulatory communications and information management lead with Monsanto, which also participated in the beta test of the Transparency Index. “The answers are short and concise. It’s about being open, honest and having a transparent dialogue.”   

Make it easy for consumers to access this important information. Include your videos, third-party verification information and feedback link either on your home page or no more than one-click deep. If consumers can’t find the information they’re looking for, it may appear that either you don’t have a positive story to tell or you have something to hide. 

“We thought we had a lot of information on our website,” said Hood. “The truth was we did, but you really had to dig to find it. Making information more accessible and consumer friendly is a step in the right direction.”

When it comes to your website, don’t simply settle for the status quo. “A website that serves only to showcase products or services is a missed opportunity that fails to meet the basic expectations of today’s visitors,” said Jones.

A website that reflects a strategic approach to transparency can directly inspire greater trust.

Showcasing your values in videos, highlighting verification programs that demonstrate you are making good on your word and engaging consumers in a meaningful dialogue can catapult your website from a check-the-box marketing tool to a personal and powerful portal.

For more detailed information on websites and transparency, download CFI’s latest research on transparency and trust: “A Clear View of Transparency and How it Builds Trust.” 

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