Advertising Age: Will You Learn from Hackers and Pirates, or Stick to the Old Ways?

Never in history has such richness of information been so readily available to so many. We’re only beginning to realize both sides of this technology-empowered coin. It’s one that can simultaneously enrich and complicate our everyday lives.

The simplicity of a web search allows knowledge-sharing or plagiarism. Tweets can share real-time stories in a war zone or take school bullying to a whole new level. The cloud itself holds the promise of preserving our digital memories, while enabling unprecedented levels of piracy, hacking and identity theft.

Information can become a weapon, and those who know how to wield it are running far ahead of those struggling to keep pace. Individuals and businesses alike are treading water in this flood of data and ever-expanding technologies. Government regulators struggle to reconcile our laws with behaviors unimaginable only a few years back.

While “best practices” become quickly antiquated, a few guidelines can help you harness both positive and negative elements of this cultural shift.

Find your voice. This is especially important in the world of participatory dialogue in social. You’re a business and as much as you may want to be “friends” with your customers, businesses and corporations will always be perceived differently. Don’t pretend you have it all figured out. Your audience will appreciate a flawed, honest narrative over pretense. And remember: exaggeration and misinformation are only a search query away from being disproven, so just don’t do it.

Expect (and plan for) the worst. If you’re doing it right, you’ll get a lot of eyeballs and generate conversation. Not all of it will go the way you intended. Hashtags will be hijacked, promo codes will be sprayed everywhere and user-generated content will fall victim to Internet trolls. This is the new normal. Roll with the punches and have a sense of humor about it. Make sure you have a clear protocol on responsiveness and funneling feedback within your organization.

Think like a hacker. Internet culture loves to remix and customize. Think of ways to open up your creative and communications to allow participation and feedback beyond standard commenting. Think: meme generators, user-generated video edits/subtitles,, or a reddit thread.

Don’t fear the pirates. Counterfeiting and piracy are nothing new, but successful businesses recognize that people who find value in your offering will contribute to keep you in business. Embrace change rather than litigating against it. Artists such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and (more recently) Louis C.K., for example, have proven that great content can generate revenue via newer, direct-distribution models.

Try something new. When trying to build a culture of innovation, it’s essential to remain firmly rooted in your core organizational culture and attributes. You started for a reason and provide things of value. This value transcends what you’ve traditionally done, so if you’re a product-based company then don’t limit yourself to product-only innovation and the same applies to service providers. Also, consider funding innovations via newer ways such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The gaming industry, in particular, is seeing a revival via of classic via Kickstarter (Road Redemption, Carmageddon, Broken Sword).

As tech innovations continue to splinter into an array of devices and platforms, we can rest assured that we can’t rest assured. And as these virtual stages are built and torn down, businesses will continue evolve, according to how and where they invest along the way. Sooner than later, your business will need to decide whether to be pioneers or settlers. Use that as a filter for the decisions you make, then create and let the chips fall where they may.

Have some ideas for guardrails or edits to the ones above? Please send them my way and they may end up in future articles expanding on these rules and ways to facilitate organizational shifts.