When I speak, my audiences are typically white men over the age of 50 and the vast majority of them don’t believe (or don’t want to believe) the web is changing not only the way we do business, but the way we communicate with one another. I always hear, “Oh my kids shop online” or “My younger employees use Facebook” but they believe the use of the web really is for the kids.
Because of that attitude, I always lead up to a very important point when speaking to that particular audience. It’s the issue of control. You see, the use of the web (not just social media, but the web) hasn’t been adopted yet by these audiences because they’re hanging on to to the one thing they think they can’t live without…and that’s control.
We’ve always thought we have control in business and in our personal lives, but it’s only been a perception. The truth of the matter is, jilted employees have always talked badly about you. Angry customers have always told their friends you suck. And upset stakeholders have complained about you. The difference is now they direct their anger at you online and you can no longer bury your head in the sand and pretend everything is fine. And I try to hit home the point that using the web is not just for the kids…American adults, on average, use the Internet for four hours every day. It’s affecting the way all of us do business and it’s affecting our perception of control.
Which leads me to our perception of control, as it’s been broken by WikiLeaks. As is customary of me, I’ve been reading everything I can about WikiLeaks and, subsequently, about the arrest of Julian Assange, before I formed an opinion I could share here. But I was asked, when I spoke last week, what I think about WikiLeaks, so I thought it was time to write about them.
WikiLeaks isn’t anything new. They’re only speeding up the way we get our information and the way secrets are shared, but it feels like lack of control to the government (and probably to some of us, too). But you see, not even the government has ever really had control. Sure, it used to be if there were a rogue CIA agent, he or she would have to carry out boxes and boxes of information in order to share secrets (remember “The Firm” and how they rented an apartment to copy documents while Gene Hackman’s character was passed out?). Now those secrets can be downloaded onto a flash drive and shared in milliseconds.
We don’t have control. We have only the perception of control.
WikiLeaks has given power to transparency, which is something those of us who use the social web for business preach every day. Nothing has changed, in terms of secrets being released (hello Richard Nixon?). What has changed is the speed at which the secrets get out and the speed at which we learn what’s really going on.
Because of that, I think WikiLeaks are good. I think they’re good for the U.S. government, I think they’re good our for relations with other countries, and I think they’re good for business.
But business be warned: You may think this is all about the government and it won’t affect you. You’re wrong. If a jilted employee knows a secret, it will get out there and it will have the opportunity to go viral. Be prepared. Be transparent. Live the Golden Rule. If you do those three things, you won’t be caught with your pants down.