5 Business Lessons From Wikileaks

Wikileaks – terrorist organization, or advocates of free expression? Earlier this year, Wikileaks leaked hundreds of thousands of confidential government documents, garnering a ton of mainstream media attention.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Wikileaks. But what interested me most was how a tiny organization with almost no financial support could generate such publicity. The more I read, the more I realized that Wikileaks was actually a tremendous opportunity for business learning. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

#1: Fear Is The Greatest Motivator

One of the most famous frameworks in marketing psychology is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow believed that humans faced five major “needs,” and ranked them in order of importance.

Clearly, security is VERY important to humans. In fact, it is second only to the most basic needs of food and shelter. This is why Wikileaks is such a big deal right now.

The big takeaway here is that when we are trying to gain media attention for our own companies or services, we should consider appealing to very basic human needs. Fear is a powerful force, and any product that claims to solve a major “fear factor” is much more likely to get noticed in a crowded market.

#2: Build Your Brand Through Controversy

I’m a big believer in building your personal brand, and sometimes, a controversy like this can present a golden opportunity.

On December 14th, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore announced that he would be donating $20,000 towards bail of Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange.

Immediately, hundreds of news outlets started buzzing about this announcement. Many were appalled by Michael Moore’s desire to help Assange, while others supported his move as a political statement in protection of free speech.

The big winner, of course, is Michael Moore. For a mere $20,000, he has generated a tremendous amount of publicity for himself. 

#3: Move Quickly To Protect Your Reputation

Although controversy can be an opportunity, it is also a dangerous double-edged sword. This is especially true for large, stable corporations with trusted brands. When Wikileaks became a big issue, many larger companies such as Amazon and PayPal also came under fire for supporting web hosting and enabling donations to the organization.

These companies risked losing many paying customers, and they wisely decided to cut off service to Wikileaks in order to protect their brands.

Basically, controversy is a good opportunity if you’re trying to get noticed (like a small company or media personality), but it can be dangerous if you have a lot to lose (like PayPal or Amazon)

#4: Large Numbers Sound More Important

A big part of the Wikileaks sensation was the number of documents leaked – more than 500,000 in total. The truth is that most of these documents are probably relatively unimportant from a security perspective. Only a small percentage of them are actually likely to contain any relevant information.

However, the large number makes a big leak seem even bigger. 500,000 is a large number, and it is much more impactful than simply saying “Wikileaks leaked 3,000 documents that had relevant information.”

Perception is reality. Play up the numbers, and you will get more attention.

#5: Sensationalism Sells Products

I recently read a CNN article about how one game developer created a online game spoofing the wikileaks saga. It was an instant hit, generating more than one million viewers in its first five days.

T-shirt manufacturers are also capitalizing on the craze by selling wikileaks themed merchandise at a substantial markup. These opportunities are usually short lived, but (moral issues aside) they can be a great way to earn some quick money. 

A few final thoughts: Wikileaks is obviously a really sensitive issue, but regardless about how you feel about it, there's no doubt that we can all learn something. Instead of venting about it, take it as an opportunity to develop your business skills and analyze a unique situation in a whole new light. 


One Response to “5 Business Lessons From Wikileaks”

  1. Jao Wei-Shieh says:

    I think #1 should be protection of information.  In China, my friends home say we do not have silly leaks like the ones from other countries.  I honestly believe this with my whole heart.  In terms of business, I believe, honestly, that protection of information is #1 priority from business perspection.  With out Protection of Information, we run risks of piracy (like in software or video business) and other such similar risk.
    But, however, the post interests me, as it gives me fuel for my passion of quick dollar for short amount of time as long as I live here.  Thank you!  ^^

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