Category Archives: Media

Entries about the news media and press coverage in general.

Economist’s Briefing on “The Leaky Corporation”

This week’s Economist has an authoritative briefing “The Leaky Corporation” that reflects some of the same trends I illustrated in my recent blog post “Why Wikileaks Doesn’t Matter.” The article reflects the opinion of several experts and studies that provide more detail and authority to the same issues I raised. It is well worth a read.

Why Wikileaks Doesn’t Matter

Wikileaks doesn’t matter in the manner that many of our leaders in government and the corporate world seem to believe. Since the release of several hundred thousand classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there have been a number of efforts to shut the site down or punish those involved:

Activities have come to light recently about “Team Themis” proposing a set of activities to discredit Wikileaks and its supporters to executives at Bank of America. It is believed that Julian Assange has a cache of secret documents and e-mails from a major US bank, generally believed to be Bank of America, that he may release in the event of his arrest or extradition. Team Themis was led by HBGary Federal, an information security firm and also included Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies. This incident has been covered well by other bloggers, and I will not re-hash the incidents here. If you want more information you can read this excellent summary from CI Law blogger Anne Lee Gibson. Kirby Pleassas of Plessas Expert Networks wrote a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the specific legal and ethical issues related to the Team Themis proposal. Kirby’s post is what got me off the couch to finally write this post.

All of this activity suggests that our corporate and government leaders believe that silencing Wikileaks will bring about an end to the problems and challenges that the organization generates. Quite the contrary, Wikileaks is only relevant of an example of broader trends. The first trend is increasing transparency with which we must all become accustomed. The second is the continuing disintermediation of traditional media as a source of authoritative information and means to disseminate information widely.

Mister Universe

You can't stop the signal.

Radical Transparency: We’re All Naked Now

One would need to be truly oblivious to not have noticed that since the advent of the Internet we are all sharing more about ourselves, whether or not we deliberately choose to do so. We’re all likely aware of how much more we’re sharing with a wider circle on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Sometimes we share more than we know or would consciously choose, and there are consequences both positive and negative that come from this sharing.

Companies and government agencies are more transparent today as well:

  • Individual employees are sharing information about their work experience via social networks. In some rare instances this information will be very sensitive. Sometimes this information, placed in the appropriate analytical context, can be far more revealing than anyone would expect. For example, a high-level employee with a lot of Foursquare check-ins at a Starbucks in the distant headquarters city of an industry rival might suggest a possible merger or acquisition.
  • Search engines are making ever-improving search functionality available that reveals information hidden on servers inadvertently connected to the public Internet. We use the “site:” operator on Google to find all kinds of Excel, Powerpoint and PDF documents companies often don’t know they’ve effectively made public.
  • Companies and government agencies continue to increase their reliance on partners, supplies, consultants and contractors. Each one of these interactions moves some corporate information to a more vulnerable environment. Traditionally CI professionals have known to watch the activities of partners and suppliers to predict corporate actions. For example, you might use information from an employee of a strategic parts supplier to estimate the unit production potential of a competitor.
  • It is becoming easier for people without Ph.Ds to perform in-depth analysis of large data sets using readily available tools. Analysis of these data sets reveals activities that might otherwise be considered extremely sensitive. Groups like the Sunlight Foundation are applying this sort of analysis to government data to reveal specific details about government activities.

Everybody Has A Printing Press, Too

It’s self-evident that blogs, Twitter, social networks and the web give each of us a platform to publish information we might not have had otherwise. If you’re not yet convinced of this you can take a look back at my summary of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. Better yet, read this fantastic book right now.

There have been a number of corporate and government efforts to shut down Wikileaks and prevent individuals from accessing the information revealed on the site. This has resulted in something of a cat and mouse game of the content being mirrored to multiple sites available from different countries and unique domain name addresses. In this case the mouse has beaten the cat. Wikileaks illustrates just how difficult it can be for government and corporate entities to silence a determined group of technically-savvy users on the global network.

Government and corporate leaders have relied on the ethics and self-interest of traditional journalists to keep some information from seeing an audience. Even the muckiest muckraker might be bribed or threatened with a loss of access presented to the journalist, her editor or publisher.

  • Non-journalists may not be aware of nor feel confined by traditional journalistic standards or ethics. These standards are nebulous enough in professional journalism as it is.
  • Individuals and groups may prioritize resolution of grievances over on-going access. They’re not here to be journalists– they just want the damn potholes fixed.
  • Parties may disseminate information anonymously. While it may be harder than most people think to remain truly anonymous on the Internet it can be done with a little care and application of minimal technical skill.
  • Some groups have outright malicious and destructive intent.
  • Criminal organization could begin to use the publishing of sensitive or classified information for their own ends.

Implications and What To Do

We cannot silence Wikileaks, that much is certain. There are too many mirrors and multiple technical workarounds to keep the information available. Even if we could silence Wikileaks it would not matter in the long run. Already alternative organizations are standing up to continue the mission of increasing transparency. These organizations and sites are only the tip of the spear of the broader trends towards transparency.

So what are we to do? These trends require some fundamental changes in how several corporate functions operate. Here are some specifics I’ve considered. If you have additional examples please feel free to share in the comments.

Human Resources should recognize the need to give employees reasons not to leak. HR along with corporate counsel should strengthen policies to protect and support internal whistleblowers. The bureaucratic imperative has too often been to silence and punish the person who brings problems to senior management’s attention. These are the people who are trying to make positive change inside of the organization– the “good guys” in any sober analysis. If whistleblowers are protected, listened to and their grievances addressed they will be less likely to leak information externally. The first step is to provide the technical means for anonymous reporting of issues and wrong-doings. Managers should be taught how to appropriately handle this kind of information from their direct reports.

Information Security needs to develop a true hierarchy of information protection and increasingly protective means to store and distribute sensitive information. Governments and corporations have erred too far towards trying to protect absolutely everything for the sake of simplicity. The problem with this approach is that operationally critical yet non-sensitive information is treated as top secret. Even low-level employees have to be allowed into the inner sanctum just to do their jobs. Once they’re in there they have access to all kinds of information. Extremely sensitive information needs to have distribution very controlled and be protected through strong measures.

Public Relations may need to move closer to senior management to offer advice on the consequences of the disclosure of certain corporate strategies, policies or plans. PR can be the voice of public perception and skepticism. Organizations will do well to understand that they are judged not by their intentions but by public perception. Many senior officials clearly forget their fallibility in the public eyes. Dennis Kozlowski, anyone?

Greater Transparency and the Competitive Intelligence Professional

Competitive Intelligence professionals are once again faced with a set of trends that will give everyone broader access to the corporate secrets the uncovering of which was once our bread and butter. There was a time when getting your competitor’s annual report made you some kind of CI ninja. This sort of information is now less than a commodity. The secrets and details that once might have only been able to be estimated from considerable primary research and analysis are likely to become more freely available. Once again we will need to move in the direction of excellent analysis and interpretation on the galaxy of information available about our competitors, our industries and the business environment.

Ethics will remain a key concern of the profession, and we must have a conversation about the ethics of using leaked information. We’ve seen examples such as the case of Coke employees trying to sell sensitive documents to Pepsi, where the ethics are very clear. We would all like to believe that in those circumstances we would make the same ethical choice. What are the ethical considerations when a competitor’s information is leaked publicly on a social network or a site such as Wikileaks?

Finally, competitive intelligence can play an educational role in the firm. We should describe our methods and practices to information security to let them know how we can use information that is published and leaked from our competitors to develop our insights. This will help them develop methods and policies to protect the firm’s information. They will not be able to prevent all leaks, so it will be important to minimize the least damaging ones. Some CI groups are already doing something similar to this. As these trends towards transparency progress this may become an important value add of the CI function.

Use Twitter and Other Social Media to Add Value to Your Event

I attend a fair number of seminars, conferences and workshops in a given year.  I’ve put on my share of meetings and conferences myself.  I’ve observed attributes of the events that successfully leverage social media.  Social media offer opportunities to expand the impact and scope of an event beyond its finite spot in space and time.

The two most important things you can do to get the most from social media at your event are as follows and in order of priority:

  1. Define a Twitter hash tag for your event and communicate it often during your conference.  Make sure the opening speaker or organizer mentions it in her opening remarks.  Display it prominently on any collateral you hand out at the event.  Include it in the footer of your presentation template if you have one.
  2. Have wi-fi available for attendees.  While most attendees at a tech-oriented event are going to have smart phones with 3G or even 4G connectivity, having wi-fi available democratizes this connectivity and makes it easier for people who prefer to use their laptop or, increasingly, tablets such as the iPad.  Laptops and tablets may not have their own wireless connections.

The Twitter Effect (or is it “The Twitter Affect?”  Probably Both.)

At some events I’ve attended I’ve been happy to see back-channel conversations taking place on Twitter.  Sometimes these conversations have turned in to real-world connections.  These new connections are of tremendous value.

Creating a Good Event Hash Tag

A good conference planner will create a unique hash tag for her event and communicate it clearly and often.  The hash tag should be unique enough to be clear with what event the hash tag is associated.  It should also be short enough to be re-tweet-able.  Twitter messages have a limit of 140 characters, and your event’s tweets will have to fit into that space.  Subtract from 140 characters for the originating Twitter ID (mine is @8of12, most are longer), the characters “RT” to designate that it is a re-tweet, the “#” and then your hash tag itself.  That gives you the total number of characters available for any given tweet to be re-tweet-able.  For the 2010 SCIP conference we chose “#scip2010.”  We could have also gone with “#scip10” for greater brevity.  Both of thee are more re-tweet-able than #strategyandompetitiveintelligenceprofessionals2010conferenceinwashingtondc.

Use TwapperKeeper to Archive Tweets

Twitter does not make all of the messages shared by their platform available permanently.  If you run a Twitter search you’ll only see results from the last three months (or less).  You’ll want to create a permanent record of the tweets from your conference, both for your own reference and for your attendees.  Create an archive for your hashtag at the site TwapperKeeper.  This will create a permanent record of the tweets sent with your event’s hash tag.  You can also download those tweets to an Excel spreadsheet.  As a complete aside, TwapperKeeper is created by my MBA classmate John O’Brien.

Promote Your Event and Hash Tag In Advance

Before your event you will want to send some promotional tweets that include your hash tag.  Make sure that your promotional messages include key vernacular terms related to your topic.  This will make your tweets more likely to show up in search RSS feeds and alerts that those interested in your topic may have created to monitor chatter on Twitter.  For example, if you include “competitive intelligence” in your tweet it will show up on my RSS feed that I have created specifically to show me all tweets that use that term.

At the conference itself its likely that your attendees who are actively tweeting will also tweet those keywords, increasing the likelihood that awareness of your conference will permeate the virtual world.  Ideally leading authorities on your topic will re-tweet a message for their own audience.  Thus begins a growing awareness of your event within the broader community of interest.  This creates connections for your attendees and gives you a broad base to which you can market your next event.

Other Social Media Tools

So far this blog entry has focused on Twitter.  That’s because the platform lends itself to the real time communication that can create an active back channel for an event.  You may have goals that go beyond the back-channel, including establishing a platform for on-going conversation and connection.  Here are a couple choices:

Create a blog: It’s easier than ever to put up a quick blog on (my platform of choice), Blogger, SquareSpace or another platform.  These do not require advanced technical skill.  Here you and other authors can add posts of interest to your community.  Make sure to open up comments so your attendees can provide feedback and add on to your postings.  A blog is particularly useful if you want to expand the community around your concept or idea and if your community is willing to share their thoughts in the open.

Create a group on LinkedIn: It is the rare professional who is not on LinkedIn.  You can create your own open or closed group on LinkedIn.  A closed group will create an administrative overhead for you to approve people for access to your group.  This overhead may be worth it if you want to engage in a more focused or limited discussion around your topic, create some level of exclusivity or your participants will want to keep their opinions less public.

Create a dedicated social network on Ning: This is a very involved option and will require considerable effort on your part.  There are also fees associated with creating a Ning community.  This should be considered a viable option if you expect there to be a particularly large and dedicated community around your concept that will need to connect with one another and communicate in multiple modes.  The social network can be as open or closed as the administrator chooses.

A Curated News Stream: My Google Reader Shared Items

Google Reader logo

One of the primary benefits the social media cognoscenti put forward for the value of Twitter is the human-curated news stream. On Twitter you follow people you trust, know or who interest you for some reason. As they come across news, blog posts, YouTube videos or other items on the web that interest them they will tweet about them. If these are people you have chosen to follow, it is highly likely that the items they share will be of interest to you as well based on some shared interest or personal connection that led you to follow these people.

My own experience is that the human curated news feed I capture from the people I follow on Twitter is extremely valuable. This is probably the most consistent value I have captured from Twitter. A number of interesting and highly relevant items have come to my attention solely because somebody in my Twitter stream chose to share those news item.

There is another Internet tool that I find extremely valuable: Google Reader. I use Google Reader to track hundreds (yes hundreds) of RSS feeds for blogs, publications, search alerts from Google, Bing and activity on RSS-enabled social networks (sadly Facebook is not among them). I scan through well over 1,000 news items on a daily basis in a series of relatively painless quick sessions of 15 – 20 minutes max. So in under 1 hour each day I am exposed to over 1,000 unique news items in the domains of general news, telecommunications, strategy, competitive intelligence… the list goes on.

Several months ago the people at Google Reader added a “Share” function that allows people to share items of interest with their Google Reader social network. Your Google social network generally defaults to your fellow Gmail users you have added to your Google Chat contact list. Recently the Google Reader team have added tools that enable you to find fellow Google Reader users with shared interests and subscribe to their shared items.

I am a promiscuous sharer on Google Reader. How I structure my marathon review sessions to get through the large volume of news items that are in my Google Reader at any one time is that if there is an item that I find interesting I actually share it so that I will come back to it when I have more time to read it. My thinking is that if I find the item of interest it’s likely that the few dozen people following my shared items on Google Reader might also find it interesting.

My default cognitive model is to share (my own version of “publish, then filter”). If you are interested in the latest news about strategy, competitive intelligence, marketing, social media and knowledge management this is a well-curated stream of information. Not all of it may be of deep interest to you, but the odds are high that a large proportion of the material will be worth at least a momentary glance. I’ve featured the most recent shared items on the right-hand side of this blog page for some time now below my Twitter stream and above my Delicious bookmarks.

If you are a person that needs to cast a wide information net I highly recommend you consider creating your own Google Reader account. You don’t need to be quite the addict that I am, though I am confident you’ll find value from Google Reader. If you share an interest in the topics that I’ve mentioned in this blog entry (you’re reading this blog, so that is probably a “Yes”) you should follow me on Google Reader (I also want to follow you back). If you are using another RSS reader you can subscribe to the RSS feed of my shared items. If you are kicking it old school and still not ready to step up to RSS you can see the web page of my shared items from Google Reader.

An Alarming Technology That Threatens Capitalism Itself

This morning I came across a presentation in my RSS feed that describes the real threat represented by an alarming “social media” technology that threatens the modern corporation.  We’re all familiar with the threats that Web 2.0 both inside and outside the corporation represent.  I thought I was on top of things, but clearly I didn’t know the HALF of it.  Look at this distributing presentation from Norman Lamont of Lloyds Banking Group and you will be as concerned as I am:

Excellent Video Summary of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”

While I was in my MBA program I amassed a daunting pile of books. The book I was most eager to pull off the pile and read was Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.”

The lucid thesis Shirky lays out for the power of the Internet and what he calls the read/write web to reduce the transaction costs of organizing group efforts is definitely transformational. The sometimes flighty and breathless discussions of web 2.0 (I am sure I am guilty of this) intuit some of the concepts that Shirky so clearly describes in a manner that clarifies why these changes are so relevant for business, government and organizations of all kinds.

Rather than present a vision of a freelancer’s paradise utopia, Shirky doesn’t hide from the fact that sometimes the consequences of these lowered transactions costs are that communities united in shared interests that are looked down upon in the broader society. One very troubling example is sufferers of anorexia uniting not to overcome the condition but to provide moral support and advice on how to continue to deprive themselves of food. This is very sad and a clear example that not everything associated with web 2.0 is for the better.

A twitter connection Steve Cunningham of Polar Unlimited has been creating a great series of video summaries of leading business books called This week he reviews “Here Comes Everybody” at my suggestion, and I’m grateful for the shout-out at the beginning of his podcast.

So here is my advice:

  1. Watch Steve’s video summary of “Here Comes Everybody”
  2. Run out and buy “Here Comes Everybody” or download it to your Kindle.
  3. Read it.
  4. Do something great with the power of lowered organizational and managerial transaction costs.
  5. Don’t be afraid to do a lot of different things and fail at some (or even most of them).
  6. Learn from your fast failures.
  7. Do something even better.
  8. Lather.
  9. Rinse.
  10. Repeat.

Social Networking More Popular than Porn: What it Means for Competitive Advantage

A CI colleague of mine passed along a story that had been brought to her attention.  According to Hitwise, social networking web sites have become more popular than porn sites.  I’m sure that there is a lot that can be said about the methodology of this headline-grabbing conclusion.  For the moment I want to either assume that the study is true or that it’s close enough to being true to support the suppositions that I am about to make for the consequences to competitive advantage.  My colleague asked in her e-mail “What is the significance of this?” and I responded thusly…

The take-away for me is that the connectivity delivered by social networking meets a fundamental human need even more ingrained and needed than sexual gratification (to put it bluntly).  

It’s not a fad or flash in the pan.  While the cast of players may change (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) the concept of social networking and subsequent threats and opportunities are here to stay.  Many business leaders are planning to wait out what they see as a fad, and many corporate leaders are maintaining or instituting misguided policies that are based on the assumption that you can separate human employees from something so fundamentally human.  

Policies in information security, public relations, human relations, marketing, sales… the list goes on all have to take this reality into consideration.  Old “sledgehammer” strategies are not going to work going forward.  The best and the brightest are going to go where they can maintain and grow their self actualization through social tools both inside the company, with partners/customers and their social lives.  Many boundaries are going to collapse as a consequence.  It’s not going to be all flowers and happiness because everybody involved is going to have to be a lot smarter.  

Those managers and employees that can apply a modicum of common sense (I hope that I fit in that category) are going to do better than the “zero tolerance” models that existed in the command-and-control world.  Business models that take advantage of social media will do better than those that don’t.

The long and short of the case I am trying to make about social media in general is that it is here to stay.  This is not to cast myself as all ra-ra social networking, web 2.0, this-time-the-revolution-will-not-be-televised dilettante.  I am, however, a firm believer in the human desire for self-actualization and socialization as a fundamental need and a higher level of desire.  While the recession may temper Generation Y’s selectiveness or job hopping looking for that perfect job, these needs are neither temporary nor generational in their nature.  Over the long term (Five years?  A decade?) the need for employers to utilize technology to accommodate those needs among customers and employees is going to become business as usual.  On its way to becoming table stakes some companies will take the smarts needed to satisfy those needs a competitive advantage.