Over the past few weeks, the world has been consuming the newest set of revelations via WikiLeaks. The uproar caused by the release of the first set of diplomatic cables from a batch of 251,000 in WikiLeaks' possession is enough to take your breath away.
A disclaimer: in this post it is not my intention to analyze the positive or negative consequences of the actions of the WikiLeaks organization—there is plenty of that coverage, just check your favorite news reader every five minutes or so to see the latest.
Instead, I want to explore the impact that the WikiLeaks brand name is having/will have on brands closely identifying with the word "wiki", and analyze whether WikiLeaks will impact the acceptance of collaboration and transparency initiatives within corporations.
My feeling? These are potentially dangerous days for wikis, collaboration, and transparency in the corporate world.
What makes this case particularly interesting is that, according to Wikipedia (of course), as of this month the WikiLeaks website isn't even based on a wiki anymore.
One of the many dangers in brand naming is that the name you choose eventually becomes too narrow to describe what your organization does. Another danger is that as things change, your name no longer accurately reflects the organization.
The latter seems to be the case for WikiLeaks. But what makes this example rather unique is the combination of an inaccurately-branded organization with a universally-used term like "wiki."
Because of some of the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks, I could certainly see situations where risk-adverse corporate leaders might reconsider using wikis or brands with the word wiki in the name.
The organization with the biggest brand risk is the biggest wiki brand of all, Wikipedia. In fact, I found multiple pages on Wikipedia attempting to make it clear that there is no relationship between Wikipedia and WikiLeaks, which is a pretty good sign that there has been confusion.
From the page: Wikileaks is not part of Wikipedia:
The site WikiLeaks, which publicizes leaked information, is not in any way affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation. It is an entirely separate website run by people who have no connection to Wikimedia.
"Wiki" is a generic word that anyone can use; it is not a brand name. The term was already in existence prior to the advent of Wikipedia, and the Wikimedia Foundation claims no ownership of the term in any way.
Another article on Wikipedia entitled "Repercussions of the WikiLeaks cable leak" was just published yesterday and includes the following:
The controversies over the ongoing United States diplomatic cables leak by WikiLeaks are having a noticeable impact on Wikipedia and Wikimedia, due mainly to the widespread confusion between Wikipedia and WikiLeaks that has lingered since the setting up of WikiLeaks almost four years ago...
This article goes on to describe a recent example of Glenn Beck confusing WikiLeaks and Wikipedia on his show and recounts a story of fallout from the brand connection in the German Wikimedia chapter.
Outside of Wikipedia, I've only seen a few articles so far mention potential dangers that WikiLeaks represents for the acceptance of wikis, collaboration, and transparency in the corporate world.
One interesting analysis appeared in Elliott Masie's Learning Trends Newsletter just a few days ago:
The release of confidential US State Department memos, emails and reports by WikiLeaks is having a potentially chilling effect on corporate collaboration strategies. Organizations are asking if the shift towards widespread internal sharing - including collaboration sites with content, context, personal perspectives and harnessing the “wisdom of the crowds” - could backfire and end up in the public release of embarrassing information.
Apart from the national security and criminal aspects of the recent leaks, this incident is creating a huge “MOMENT” in the deployment of internal document and collaboration sharing. It can become a “teachable moment” or it can become a “contraction/restriction” moment, where concerns about information leakage, brand damage and even legal liability shut down the shift towards greater collaboration.
I think Elliott is right on.
For brand leaders, WikiLeaks may end up being an important lesson highlighting the risks of using a prominent generic term as part of your corporate brand name. Despite Wikipedia's protests that "wiki" is not a brand name, it is a major part of their brand name.
But beyond the brand lessons, I believe we are witnessing the beginnings of what may become a larger crisis for wiki-based brands as well as efforts to increase transparency and sharing within organizations.
Do you see it differently or think the dangers will pass quickly? Please share your thoughts.