If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing a lot about WikiLeaks in the past few weeks, but the real background and potential ramifications of the site and its contents have been a bit of a jumble, muted against the background of the holiday hustle and bustle. This article from Fast Company, however, quickly snapped me back to professional reality and provided a timely reminder to review communications plans and policies for the companies that we, as public relations professionals, represent.
According to the article, “…Julian Assange said at least half the treasure trove of documents the organization is holding belong to private corporations…” Sometime early next year, WikiLeaks plans to start adding these materials from private corporations to its site. Naturally, I wondered how WikiLeaks got its hands on its first round of materials, and slapped myself on the forehead when I saw this piece from CBS Sunday Morning about 23-year-old Bradley Manning who basically cut and pasted data he found simply searching documents to which he had access on the job.
As part of any fully-rounded communications planning process, we encourage our clients to try to head off crises like leaked documents by developing clear policies about document access and sharing. Of course, given the intersection of confidential documents and social mediums like Facebook, Twitter and wikis, there are no guarantees. In addition to having a reactive crisis plan, we also recommend the following common-sense steps when it comes to internal and external communications strategies:
- Remember that anything in writing can be forwarded, copied, saved or rebroadcast
- Confidential communications are best handled in person, not via e-mail
- Never say anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want your boss or competitor to read
- Engage legal and communications team counsel early for particularly sensitive issues and documents
- If a confidential document must be distributed electronically, be sure to watermark it “Draft” and/or “Confidential” and ensure the recipients understand the importance of keeping the document confidential
As we head into the New Year, it’s a great time to learn from WikiLeaks and review your communication policies. At GroundFloor Media we’ll be doing so on behalf of our own communications as well as for our clients. Don’t let your company be the next victim of WikiLeaks!