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Gini Dietrich

WikiLeaks End Our Perception of Control

By: Gini Dietrich | December 21, 2010 | 
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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.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

52 comments
Any Lab Test Now Franchise
Any Lab Test Now Franchise

This provides maximum protection to our sources. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals.

joshhumble
joshhumble

Hi Gini - Love your work, but I have to disagree. Too many people think EVERYTHING should be exposed about EVERYONE. First, that's too much info - much of it - irrelevant in a world that has already become too noisy. We all know what happens with irrelevant content – a dead, useless message. More important, though, state-level secrets should never be revealed by an outside source, and should never be in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, state secrets protect some wrong-doing people, but they also protect the common wealth and citizens around the world from truly terrible people, and the calamity they would unleash with 100% transparent governments. We have to take the good with the bad. What will come as a result of Wikileaks? High-level personnel will simply learn how to be more covert, regardless of what they're doing, and too many people will reveal more than they should to a society rampant with a lot of ill-minded people. The new trend of transparency, taken too far, means complete chaos, loss of oneself, and no personal security. Keep in mind, a lot of ill-minded people would like to see this happen on state and corporate channels. In addtion, as many have pointed out, stealing information, as Wikileaks has done, is the same as stealing one's identity, or anything else - it's theft.
On the other hand, responsible - or strategic - transparency, voluntarily provided, has had its very cool benefits, and it's important that companies take heed. We now see companies becoming more transparent, presenting themselves as real people, and truly making good on mistakes when they happen. Let's embrace transparency where it should be applied, while rejecting those who would use it to create havoc in our society.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

Gini, I agree with your premise, I disagree with your analogy. Apples and oranges. Governments can and should have secrets. There's case law that establishes as much. Stealing secrets is no different than you stealing a bike and selling it to me. I'm an accessory after the fact. People, that is citizens living in the countries we operate, won't talk to us at all if they fear someone might find out. Because if someone does find out their lives -- and those of their families -- are in jeopardy. Real human lives. It's not a game. It's not posturing. I've lived it. It's real. I'm a PR guy full time, but I've been overseas. I've used the PR skills I have to develop relationships with people, to understand the sphere of influence and to act on that knowledge to take action to measurable ends. It's about trust, not control. Breaking secrets like Julian Assange has won't improve relations, it will inhibit them. They won't happen. Your best friend wouldn't confide in you for support and counsel if you ran out and posted their deepest secrets in your Facebook status. It would end your relationship. With business...it's a different matter. And with that I agree.

zn_moment
zn_moment

I wonder whether the way how internet opens a convinient transperancy will survive without power holders interruption/regulation. Anyways, there is another great article about this "Just watch us: The utopian dream of total openness" and worth to read at http://goo.gl/aERdn.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff

Uh-oh. Gini, I respectfully disagree as well. I don't want to get lost in the politics of WikiLeaks, so I'll avoid that issue. My concern is your point about the power of transparency.

My feeling: All good things in doses.

Yes, on balance transparency is good. Too much transparency is bad. For two reasons:
1. The signal to noise ratio makes it impossible to understand anything. The "maker" of prospectuses learned this long ago. When laws and regulations required public companies to disclose potential negative information it wreaked havoc on businesses. How can they raise money AND be honest.

That's when the lawyers solved the problem. They discovered that if they merely disclosed EVERYTHING, no one would be able to tell what mattered and what didn't. Hence a tool designed to create transparency has become virtually useless.

2. Some secrets are good. I certainly wouldn't want everyone to know what I'm thinking. The ability to seek counsel with the comfort of privacy is critical. If we reach the point where everything is transparent, we'll be less likely - not more likely - to seek good counsel, and we'll all suffer for it.

You point about loss of control is irrefutable, I'm just not sure it's all a good thing.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

I have to take issue with the use of the word "we".

"We" do not have control as some kind of establishment any longer, that is true. In fact, the expert classes and those with the perception of power have not had control over things for a long time (approximately since 1968, but I digress). That has a lot to do with why our politics is so pedantic and divisive - the only enemy that can be dealt with is a cartoon or a strawman.

This may appear to have nothing to do with advertising, but it has everything to do with it. Corporations are a big part of the establishment that has attempted to maintain the appearance of control. They should stop that and accept the fact that they do not control their "image" any longer, as none of us do.

There's a lot more to say about this, 'natch. I write about this roughly once a week in one form or anohter, 800 words at a time. But the effects ripple through every aspect of our lives as we all accept this slowly, in turns. That sense of the word "we" I happen to think works.

JulioRVarela
JulioRVarela

Wow, people are saying some very intelligent things here on this blog. Am so proud of you, Gini. The businesses that can balance transparency with trade secrets will be the winners in all this.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Geez Gini I have to hook you up with my multi-cultural posse from the West Coast. Oh wait none of them have corp jobs unless they work making movies, and the only speech they want to hear is about world peace, love + hugs, save the environment and the next great art project for burningman. Sorry you are stuck with the old white men.

There is a great discussion on the last Beancast regarding the illusion of privacy from an online perspective. We do have privacy, it is not as complete as we expect. When it comes to managing a business not just employees can expose secrets. Vendors, Customers, Competitors can. Any system can be hacked into with enough effort.

I think the key is to be as transparent as possible without giving up 'state secrets' of your business. The more things that are out in the open the less things that can be exposed. Expect people to post on the internets things you maybe don't wish to be there. Just like they will say things at their homes or in bars. I would not put anything critical on the cloud. Even Salesforce.com which I use scares the crap out of me. Lastly the more ethical you are the less worried you need to be about. Ethics will help you ensure your employees are less likely to do your business damage. Use NDA's with vendors and customers where needed. NDA's cant stop exposure, but they can give recourse in the courts of law.

Last and most important. Don't be a dick! (sorry speaking to old white men with that comment) If you abuse your employees, pay them poorly, give them bad working conditions, treat them like indentured servants. You are in for trouble.

Whitney Punchak
Whitney Punchak

I love teaching people about social media! As soon as they overcome their fear of digital they embrace it. When it comes to twitter in particular, I hear a lot of "oooh, that's what it's for."

Regarding Wikileaks, it's about time we have an effective and inexpensive way to hold government/corporations accountable.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

The watershed 1979 prior restraint media case United States of America v. The Progressive (467 F. Supp. 990) was the Wikileaks of its day. It grabbed national attention, raising issues of state secrets, national security and free speech. It seems kind of quaint today.

jacobvar
jacobvar

Hi Gini, thanks for your thoughts. I agree that businesses are going to face the same problems that the govt is faced with in dealing with sectrets being 'outed'. In fact, quite a few questionable businesses practices have already been mentioned in the wikileaks capers (Shell, Pfizer etc). As mass adoption of the social platform seems to be underway...I dont think anyone can hold back the tide.
The choice businesses and governments, hopefully the world over, will have to make :
Trying to hide questionable practises
VS.
learning to operate without questionable practises in the first place.

pacebutlercorp
pacebutlercorp

Well said, "Rachaelseda". This is obviously the line that Wikileaks and the rest of the world is trying to walk. Who do we have to blame for this? Who can we pin this to? In this case it is Julian Assange. "Gregorylent" could you explain better what you mean by "full transparency"? Not sure I quite agree with that wording.

gregorylent
gregorylent

full transparency already exists! nothing is hidden! it is all present on subtle planes, already. our world that we live in is already the aggregate of all that ever happened. the only change currently is ... we are all become more subtle. the tech enables it.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

We see the same thing. We have many clients who come to us with big visions for their website or app, but then say "what about this Twitter thing/stuff...do you do that too, isnt that for college kids or something?" And it's not just the older crowd either (although we do see it there heavily). We have plenty of clients in their 30's who just dont embrace it, they do what they consider to be just enough, until one day they find out there was a negative tweet...they sure learn quickly then!

I agree we don't have "control", but we have the ability to be involved/proactive, which can be just as important. If you are not involved or evolving along with the tech advances you certainly can not expect to any type of control.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

I know this type of sentiment oh to well and unfortunately this type of resistance and need for control ultimately brings down morale in the people who are trying to create the shift. It can be exhausting for people who are merely trying to do their job and bring everyone on board with using the web & social media as an integral part of the communication strategy of the organization only to be denied. When you are eager and enthusiastic to teach/show others (aka the 50 year old white male CEO you reference) the importance of the web for the organizations growth only to be met with resistance and essentially being told that "your ideas aren't necessary or they suck" it's frustrating. Really what happens is the communication department can't perform their job and you lose morale and essentially the organization is set way below the "curve".As for wiki leaks I get what your saying, it's true that people have always talked and secrets have always been leaked. But where is the line drawn? What about secrets that really should be kept secret for the safety of others and for our country? I am all for transparency but I think there is a difference when it comes to privacy and safety. One example I am thinking of is as a nurse my mother is sworn to secrecy for her patients safety and privacy - that was part of her job and if she breaches this privacy she could and should lose her job. There are instances like this that I believe should be private. Sure, there will always be things that are leaked, after all we are human. But shouldn't there be some consequences for disclosures that breach your responsibility either in your career or that put others in harms way?

pacebutlercorp
pacebutlercorp

I agree with the others here that transparency is a good thing. It either provides an actual motivation for people to do business honestly, what a novel concept, or it forces people to become more cynical and trust in the inherent good of others less. Seth Godin has been preaching this for years. Wouldn't it be easier to just do business honestly? Isn't it way harder to be deceptive (it definitely takes more work and provides a much higher level of stress)?

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

I had heard about this site through a friend, and yes, I think overall, it's a good thing. Like "meganbeausang" below, I also find it fascinating that there are adults who think only "kids" use the Internet...who are these people and what rock have they been living under? The Web, and all of its associated tools, are the primary drivers behind business for the most part (or is that an over-generalization?).

If a company (or a branch of government) is engaging in unorthodox or illegal practices, I think people have a right to know. While it may frighten us, at least the truth is out there.

In fact, while we're on the subject, someone posted a complaint on ComplaintsBoard.com about our company, and I responded to it. However, it turned out that said individual was actually a former employee posing as one of our clients. While it may have been "negative press," so to speak, looking back on it, the person had a weak argument to begin with.

At the moment, I don't know if our company is big enough to make it to WikiLeaks, but if we do, the best thing for us to do is try and correct our errors. Am I right?

jamesjdonnelly
jamesjdonnelly

Gini,Transparency is a good thing. Forced transparency is both good and bad, in my opinion. It depends on the disclosures.If you or your readers are interested, I've written about WikiLeaks implications for business fairly extensively. The two main blog posts can be found under this tag: http://www.jamesjdonnelly.com/tag/wikileaks/Cheers,J.D.

meganbeausang
meganbeausang

I think it is fascinating that there are still people out there that believe only 'kids' use the internet...I truly believe they know they need to get educated but saying the internent is 'just for kids' is a lot easier...When I was in financial services, my mantra used to be "I just don't get twitter." It took a 90 minute webinar and 30 minutes to set up an account and my hootsuite and I was hooked. Sadly though, that came after two years of 'poo-pooing' twitter.

CLGraphics
CLGraphics

Hallelujah sister! Can I get an Amen? I said… Can I get an Amen?

Within our Social Media 101 seminars, we see much the same audience that you described. Men and women both attend, with the majority being 50+, and a few 20 to 30 folks generally round out our attendees. Very few fall into my own 40+ age group.

During these seminars specifically, I always talk about how “we no longer have control of our brand” (as if we ever did, as you pointed out very well above). People have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that they’re not in control of the conversations about their businesses, only participants.

Gini, you’ve created a master example of the absence of ‘illusion of control’ within this post. Thank you and well done J

kunter
kunter

Be prepared (updating ourselves to make valid business strategies?)
Be transparent (go social as 'sickly' as possible? to the bitter end?)
and ... the Golden Rule? (here lemme explain some):
- One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself
- One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (also called the Silver Rule)

So that everybody may shout at your behind "the King is naked!!" - and since you're the one who made himself transparent in the first place, you won't bother it even a bit. After all, no such thing as bad advertising :)

Apparently the facts are coming; I hope this personal "transparency" through our owned media would work in the end before I gotta call cavalry. Thanks for sharing your encouraging and “equally” entertaining ideas..

joshhumble
joshhumble

@ginidietrich @joshhumble @Frank_Strong Thanks for considering this from various angles, Gini. While it’s always very likely our own company’s info will get into other’s hands - becoming somewhat out of our control - I think it’s important to minimize unauthorized leaks, while riding the wave easily and making good on things when they do happen, with all proper legal and ethical protocols in place. It’s also important to understand the difference between voluntary transparency, versus unethical, rude, and often, illegal, FORCED transparency.

Thanks for the great conversation!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@joshhumble I've actually been thinking a lot about this since I wrote it and since a DM conversation I had with @Frank_Strong . And I'm changing my stance...slightly. I think WikiLeaks (and really it's transparency and honesty I'm advocating) are appropriate in business. But I agree there have to be state secrets and that not everything should be transparent. I mean, I'm a business owner and there are things that happen on a daily basis that just are better left untold...until necessary. It's not that I'm being dishonest. It's that I'm creating high morale that doesn't need to be hit every time we hit a bump. So I'm hearing you guys. Loudly.

kunter
kunter

@joshhumble someone having some senses arrived? at last.. my goodness.

I have just deleted the whole part I was about to post here regarding "transparency".. No one gets transparent.. just masquerades, tons of personal agendas and necessary make-ups to this end. Remember the christmass video here (say, if this is the transparency we are talking about), and the tone of madam dietrich's commanding voice to the nephew, apperantly who upset her not gibing the answer she had expected, but didn't bother correcting or teaching or sharing either.. perhaps that was some other episode, or that was, what my point is, not part of our business..

we've got the picture, it had to involve decorations, people, and a scrip to follow, the make-ups these are, that I have mentionned, and definetely, no transparency :)

Otherwise, it would jeopardize anything the company or the family (or the associates, whatever) assumingly had achieved in one year's of time..
There is nothing wrong in this, we are selling ourselves after all, and f'sure, GD is doing a great job over there..

In addition, I believe it would be too immature for talking about WIKILeaks at this time.. still we are not quite sure what the hell happened in September, 2001 in USA..

above, just the devil's advocate - don't hate me..
best regards

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Frank_Strong Very fair. I think we actually agree. I was making the point of WikiLeaks from a business perspective. But I also think Assange being arrested is dumb.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Doug_Davidoff LOL! I wouldn't want most people to know what you're thinking, either! I don't know. Like I said to @LFJeremy I think there is some middle ground. And I think the middle ground is do business ethically and live the Golden Rule. If you do that, everything will work out in the end. After all, there are things we shouldn't tell our staff or clients (for instance, I'm having a terrible day, but if I ran around here telling everyone that, it'd shoot morale), but transparency is good around the idea of not sticking our heads in the sand and pretending something is happening or being honest when it's necessary. I certainly didn't mean we have to tell everyone everything. That's bad for everyone.

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

@LFJeremy @ginidietrich We should have a Livefyre meetup in Tahoe, who's game? I'm teaching the whole team how to snowboard (if they can handle it!) That would make for a great blog post :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@LFJeremy What?! You disagree? WITH ME?!? :) I see your point. I don't agree, but I definitely think there is a way to balance your way and my way. Care to meet me in the middle?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JulioRVarela Crazy fun over here, Julito! You haven't been by in a while and it makes me so happy to see you!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

took me 10 minutes to write this post and 2.5hrs to get it posted. I better get me at least 2.7 Livefyre points for this!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jacobvar I like the distinction you make...which really is ethics or no ethics. Some people just suck.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EricPudalov @rachaelseda I'm with Eric and I totally see what you're presenting Rachael. I think there is a huge difference between transparency and confidentiality. I mean, in my example of The Firm, I said so in jest to prove how easy it is to walk away with secrets and post them anonymously to a site such as WikiLeaks. I do think if it the leak is at the detriment of someone's health or the health of our country, freedom of speech doesn't apply. But I also don't think Assange is responsible for what people are leaking.

Tomorrow I'm going to blog about something that just happened to me - an unhappy employee at a large company sent me an email (as the columnist for a magazine) with copies of emails from their corporate HQs. I don't know what to do...except blog about it. But it gets to the root of what you're saying.

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

@rachaelseda You know, Rachel, although in my earlier comment I had expressed that transparency is a good thing, I also agree that in some cases, confidentiality is important.

I watch a lot of crime shows, and constantly, there are cases in which someone has to reveal very personal information relevant to a case. While I believe there are exceptions when it comes to the law, I think that individuals, especially, still have the right to privacy.

However, in the instance of large corporations and branches of government, I also feel that if these entities are supposedly acting in our interest, we do have a right to know what they're doing. Is there a "middle ground" here? I'd like to think so.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@pacebutlercorp It's MUCH harder to do business in an unethical manner. Yet people do it all the time. I don't get it. I'd be stressed out all the time.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EricPudalov You are right! Very right. And you're monitoring the web, which puts you eons ahead of everyone else.

kunter
kunter

@rachaelseda @meganbeausang Everybody seems convinced enough that without paying a buck they could keep hassling the people with unsolicited matterial. And I'll see you, with all due respect my friends, how hard you might wanna run away from those people, no different than 'us' people, having their "hooks" on you and begun bombarding you with tons of bizzare - if not commercial stuff. One problem about humanity, not actually for twitter, is that, we are awfully crowded, as everything in the universe perhaps, we are getting to be abundant as well :) yet, only us want to grow in business and gain as much share as possible from the pie in the middle. I don't believe "hey come on, telling ya tis twitter rocks, oh yeah"s would be much of a cavalry for the OTHER facts also coming.

before killing the messenger, know that I'm devil's advocate - hafta :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rachaelseda @meganbeausang And guess what?! Megan and I met through Twitter and now we work together! All because she educated herself and got out there. And @EricPudalov ? I have people that say that about the Internet ALL THE TIME.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

@meganbeausang Yes! I think Twitter is one thing that you don't fully understand (no matter how much someone tries to sell you on it) until you do it yourself...and after a little bit of playing with it - you're hooked!

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

@meganbeausang Megan, do you actually know anyone who's come out and said that about the Internet? If that's the case, I can only conclude that such people (no offense to them) are living in the "Dark Ages," so to speak.

I love your statement about how you used to say "I just don't get Twitter," and then simply took a webinar and educated yourself to correct that. If only more people were so forward-thinking.