I had a discussion with a friend a few days ago who is an outsider to the marketing world. When she asked about a new prospect meeting I had, I reflexively explained that I was under NDA and couldn’t discuss the company or product in any detail. (18 years of conditioning works!) However, the fact that I tweeted about attending the meeting in the first place highlights the fact that all of us engaged in any social media marketing (SMM) activities sit at the top of a very slippery slope regarding confidentiality.
Loose lips sink IP
I’m no stranger to the concept of non-disclosure agreements. Binary Pulse takes them very seriously. We deal with startup companies in stealth mode actively trying to secure funding all the way to publicly-traded multinationals. Every company along that continuum has closely guarded intellectual property. Some of it’s obviously sensitive. Some of it seems harmless enough. And that subjective interpretation is where the danger lies.
Information that seems benign can actually be devastating to a company if leaked. Nearly ten years ago, we were working with a large PC gaming company on the packaging and an ad campaign for a sequel to their best-selling title ever. (And one of the best-selling titles to date, at the time.) It was a role-playing game and, during our early development, we were given a copy of the backstory. This 12-page Word document detailed all of the machinations behind the primary characters and chronicled how the plot line unfolded during the course of the game. While this information was novel to us, in the hands of rabid fans awaiting the sequel, it would be worth far more.
No, we did not leak the information out. But I remember the quiet epiphany for us. Even though the client didn’t caution us when they gave us the document (or threaten our lives over its dissemination), we realized that distributing that document could prove devastating to the company and the title’s sales. We alerted the staff and put the document under virtual lock and key.
That was in the days before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and widespread blogging. “Leaking” that information back then would’ve consisted of emailing the Word document to an editor or a user group. With some effort and time, the backstory would’ve been made its rounds. Today, one tweet…140 characters…can do irreparable damage in the blink of an eye.
Think before you tweet
Whether you work for an agency or are on the client side, it is imperative to train your staff about this razor sharp line between sharing information that’s interesting and sharing information that’s damaging. This challenge transcends business, as government officials, sports teams and Hollywood celebrities are now being advised on what they can and can’t talk about.
We’re in a new frontier of visibility. Social media encourages frequent updates; it lauds transparency and authenticity. It also threatens to damage the trust between you and your partners if not managed properly. So think twice before you comment on certain topics. Most of the verboten ones should be readily apparent – but don’t assume that everyone on your staff knows that. Here are some tips:
- Assume that EVERYTHING is confidential first. Presume your communications are guilty until proven innocent. Over time, you’ll be able to define what’s fair game and what’s not.
- Have frequent staff updates – even just quick standup meetings – to illuminate projects and clients that are particularly sensitive and how to handle discussion of them in social venues. Don’t let the quick flow of social network conversations lull you into complacency or lower your guard.
- Speak about certain topics in an anonymous way; don’t name names where and when appropriate. But be sensible. Don’t say “Working on exciting new project with major beverage manufacturer that rhymes with Boke.”
- When in doubt about confidentiality, don’t say anything. Riffing Thumper, “If you can’t say something safe, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
- Understand that what you share via a blog comment, status update or tweet LIVES FOREVER. Enough said.
- Finally, if you haven’t already, draft a social media policies document for your organization. Regardless of your company size, having ground rules established for decorum on social networks is extremely valuable – including how to handle confidential subject matter.
One of the main objectives of social media is to cultivate your role as a trusted adviser. Just make sure that an accidental (or boneheaded) violation of an NDA doesn’t destroy all that trust you’ve worked so hard to build.