This week Wikileaks started publishing more than 250,000 US embassy cables—the largest number of confidential documents released to the public so far.  Imagine if something like this happened to your organization. What would happen to your brand? How would it affect your ability to do business? To compete? To negotiate new deals? To hire and retain talent?  These are the questions now bouncing from diplomatic circles to executive boardrooms to newsrooms across the globe. As well as “how could this happen?”

But another question raised in my mind is how much information should organizations really share—even if they think it is being done privately–through the internet?  And how do you train your workforce to understand the advantages and perils of file-sharing and social networks?

To answer these questions, let’s back up and see just how this leak happened.  Starting in 2000, as part of a number of federal initiatives to improve information-sharing between  agencies, the State Department made software changes that effectively lowered its inter-agency firewall so that Pentagon staff could now peer into embassy cables, among other documents.  Of course, there were restrictions in place on who could do this, but obviously an industrious army private was able to defeat them rather easily.

This prompts several thoughts as we all begin to review internal systems. Organizations with multiple locations and that use servers or file-sharing systems should always be working to ensure the right people are reviewing the right materials.  But what about once a project is completed? Take the time to consider how you are archiving the materials and who has access and for how long.

The next issue is people—always at the heart of both brand and security.  The army private who allegedly got hold of all these documents was able to download them remotely and efficiently.  Was there software missing to detect mass downloads? Was he so clever as to defeat this? Was he able to retrieve redacted material? Regardless of the answers, the question raised is how companies and agencies vet their “army privates.”  Who are the young, digital natives (yes this is ageist of me—bring on the comments!) with access to critical information affecting your brand? The reality is that right now–and this will change over time–the younger generation is more likely to know how to defeat security systems and navigate social networks to disseminate the information.  Because of this knowledge they can also help you protect it. So plan to include them in those conversations. And consider how you vet and train them–not just about internal systems, but about how critical this information is to your brand and effectiveness.  Also take time to train (and re-train) your older employees–the ones of the cable-writing diplomat’s generation–to ensure they understand social networks and understand file-sharing protocols and the impact on your work.

File-sharing is a dangerous business, but also consistent with the workings of a democratic and open society.  I certainly don’t think we should try to stop it.  But we do need to reconsider people and processes, so we minimize the brand damage to our nation, our organizations, and ourselves.

YouTube is now the number two search engine, after Google. What does that mean for those involved in fundraising, marketing and branding? That people are searching for videos about your people and your organization, not just looking for written content.  So in 2011, you may need to be ramping up your video presence on the web.

What do you need to know about video content best practices?

After having produced hundreds of videos for advocacy, motivation, education and marketing, here are my Ten Commandments of Video Content (OK, really only 7 because 10 is just too long for a blog post):

1.  Know Thy Brand. If you are a 100-year-old institution, you may have a great (and lengthy) brand story. What part of it makes sense to tell through video? Who are the voices that can best evoke your essence? If you’re a new group, do you need to establish some gravitas? How do you do that without being staid? Knowing your brand will help define your creative approach—the most important element in your video toolkit.

2.  Know Thy Target Audience. What compels your prospective audience? How old are they and what is their predisposition towards your subject matter? (translation: how long will watch your video before bailing?) If you don’t spend some time thinking about your audience, and better yet getting to know them through surveys, focus groups and face-to-face contact, you can waste a lot of time and money on video that doesn’t connect.

3.  Know Thy Goals. “To create a really great web video” doesn’t count as a goal! Are you trying to generate support for a fundraising campaign? Promote a new program or initiative? Let people know about a new product or service? Give a window into your people or your operations?  Each type of goal requires a different creative and technical approach, from camera selection to list of interviewees.

4.  Know Thy Technology. I like to shoot in 16×9 Hi-Def whenever possible with cameras that record to P2 cards rather than tape, to avoid lengthy digitizing sessions and ensure great-looking images. Although I recently became enamored of the new DSLR option to shoot video and LOVE the way it looks and feels. [For techies—the Canon 5DMKII with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens] If you didn’t acquire hi-res or render your animations in the right way, you will have pixilated, crummy-looking video on any size screen—and often you end up wanting to use web video in a live event context where image quality really matters. Viewers are sophisticated, and this has an impact on their perception of your brand or their consumption of your content.

5.  Know Thy Budget. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to produce a proposal without knowing the client’s budget. This is a waste of time for everyone. Consider this analogy. Would you go to a realtor and say “I’d like to see some houses” and not tell him/her what your price range is? You might see some mansions but not be able to buy any of them. Or, you’ll walk through homes without any of the features you want and need. Figure out what you want to spend not just based on a budget line-item but the cost-per-view or cost-per-acquisition you are willing to pay.  Then your vendors can give you a fair assessment of the best bang for your buck, both technically and creatively.

6.  Know Thy Downstream Uses. If you plan right, you can multi-purpose your raw content for other projects. If you don’t, you can’t.  Most of my projects for return clients use anywhere from 25% to 80% recycled content, but that’s because we’ve discussed in advance asking alternate questions of interviewees, shooting additional b-roll in a particular location, and produced alternate graphics options.

7.  Measure Impact. How are you rolling out your video? Can you offer sneak previews to a live audience so they can help you promote it online? How will you measure the effectiveness of your project?  How are you driving traffic to it? Who are you enlisting to drive the traffic there? (more in a future post on helping your staff and board use social media to do this).

Last night I watched as much as I could manage of Sarah Palin’s Alaska—the new show on TLC.  It’s basically Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom meets The Brady Bunch (but without good old Alice). If you are as old as I am, then you remember watching Wild Kingdom and wondering “will Jim be swallowed by the giant croc or mangled by that charging lion?!” And on the Brady Bunch side, we pondered “whatever will happen at the Big Dance if Jan can’t get her hair to look right?!”  Well, that’s pretty much the way it goes on Sarah Palin’s Alaska, where you can’t help wondering if Sarah might plunge to her death in a crevasse on national TV or whether Willow will ever finish getting dressed in her room while her boyfriend waits downstairs.

So why is this harmless show the subject of this branding blog?

Because it’s a brilliant move in the re-branding of Sarah Palin.  It’s entertainment that puts her in a much better light that most of her media appearances and political rallies. It makes her human. It shows her dangling uncomfortably from zip lines and doing her homework on the home computer for a Fox TV appearance. It shows her with popular hubby Todd taking their kids fishing, and the kids can’t catch any.  It reveals she’s just like every other working mom, getting chewed out by her daughter for being on her Blackberry too much.

What’s the impact?

Hard to say, when the show has many more weeks to go. But paired with her new book “America by Heart” coming out in a few weeks (already available for pre-order, of course) it could be a nice re-direct and a good way to make a tidy sum (did you see the size of that RV??!!).  And when Republicans take over the House in January, she can also stay on her political soap-box to keep them on task and herself in view. All without being involved in the actual ugly sausage-making of public policy and governing. Sounds like a great re-brand to me.  What do you think?

Today Bill©2010 B. DeLouise and Melinda Gates announced a $50M gift to the Smithsonian to leverage its programs for school children not able to come to the nation’s capital.  The funds will help to finance projects developed by Smithsonian researchers on a competitive basis, with a goal of creating a Smithsonian-led education community, according to The Washington Post.

In a tough economy, leveraging existing work is critical for nonprofits and for-profits alike.  At Children’s National Medical Center, a challenge gift of $25 Million from Diana and Stephen Goldberg allowed the hospital to bring in more than $55 Million in additional gifts.  On a smaller but equally hi-impact scale, this September, cycling blogger Elden Nelson was able to raise more than $135,000 in less than 10 days for LIVESTRONG and World Bicycle Relief by leveraging the connections he had built through his blog, Twitter and Friends Asking Friends.

According to The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy report just out,  many companies reduced their philanthropy from 2008 to 2009—59% of those surveyed. But 36% increased their total giving, and many leveraged tools such as in-kind gifts and combined efforts with other corporations to do it. As a result, aggregate giving was higher in 2009 than in 2008 by 7%.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, and you consider your charitable giving, who can you collaborate with to make a bigger impact? How can you leverage work already being done and take it into new communities? And how can you mine your social media tools to extend your reach?