Friday, January 10, 2014

Future or Flop: What Wearable Tech Means for Public Relations

In the 1989 blockbuster “Back to the Future Part II,” the movie’s main character, Marty McFly, finds himself in “far off” 2015 where he and the audience catch a glimpse of the future. 
While flying cars don’t dominate and wheel-less skateboards don’t exist as depicted in the film, there’s a piece of fake future technology that’s already right at home in 2014: wearable “smart” technology. In the movie, Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, is seen sporting a talking, self-drying jacket.  
From smart watches and Google Glasses to fitness trackers, intelligent t-shirts and bras, wearable technology continues to gain momentum. The transition from smartphone to smart coat (or anything else deemed intelligent) stems from a drastic drop in the size and cost of data sensors as well as an increase in data storage capacity, processing power and the battery life of Bluetooth-connected devices.  
These sensors track what’s increasingly called biometrics. Calories burned, steps taken, heart rate and even perspiration and sleep patterns can be analyzed by sophisticated sensors. Linked to a smart device, consumers have access to an enormous amount of personal data, which they can use to make behavioral changes to improve their health or lifestyle. A smart tennis racket or smart golf club can analyze your swing and send that data in real-time to another smart device for readout; and ‘course correction’ if your swing sucks (as mine does).  
At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, wearable tech appeared to be the biggest showstopper. 
But does such prominence guarantee the technology’s success? And, placing my PR hat back on, what implications, if any, does wearable technology have for the communications industry?   
There’s no doubt wearable tech has a future –even if many current examples have been criticized for being ‘half baked.’ Some smart watches, for instance, have been compared to smartphones with a wristband. Function has to become fashion-friendly and this is happening, albeit slowly. Intel recently announced that it was teaming up with boutique retailer Opening Ceremony to design a smart bracelet, while chip-maker CSR and Cellini Jewelers have created a smart pendant that lights up when receiving notifications.  
Wearable tech works because of the ongoing data revolution. Just as retailers crave a more granular customer picture in an effort to personalize experiences, consumers desire more data for similar reasons. Knowing that you’ve only taken 1,000 steps in a given day and burned 500 calories, or that your home uses 10% more electricity than it needs, all helps to improve consumers’ daily lives. It’s as if big data is becoming domesticated and made user-friendly. 
As people become more comfortable with the tracking, recording and analysis of large real-time data sets, it’s likely that our clients will expect a similar degree of metrics tracking the success of their campaigns. And if some of these wearable tech companies become clients directly, you can be sure they’ll want to feature campaigns of people using –and benefiting from – the gadgets they sell. While many will become more comfortable with big data in their lives, not all will embrace these Big Brother-like technologies. That means we’ll likely have more PR fires to extinguish as there may be a vocal minority of smart device detractors, eager to attack our newest and potentially most promising clients and the products they sell. I suspect such developments will keep our jobs rather exciting in the year ahead.  
With a New Year ahead of us, there’s plenty of time left to convince wearable tech skeptics. After all, our jackets may not be self-drying or talking yet, but you can be sure such advancements aren’t far off. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Preventing a Big Data Backlash: Information Security and Privacy Protection in 2014

Hindsight is a weird thing. Profound events come to be known not by virtue of major human advancement or scientific discovery, but by living. By being another day older. On June 4, 2013 few people knew the name Edward Snowden. By the following day Edward Snowden was fast becoming a household name as Americans and citizens around the world learned of the scope and clandestine nature of the CIA’s domestic and international surveillance programs, leaked by the 29-year-old government employee.  
Very soon terms like PRISM, XKeyscore, Tempora and metadata entered our lexicon. Snowden, it’s been estimated, stole nearly 2 million classified government files and by multiple accounts, much of the information contained within those documents has yet to be leaked. By December 2013 TIME Magazine had selected Snowden as the runner-up for The TIME Person of the Year, referring to him as the “Dark Prophet.”
I’m not so sure about the prophet reference but if Americans (or anyone else) ever needed a reminder of just how vulnerable our digital data could be, Snowden’s actions are proof. 
The Year of Data Breach Disaster 
Beyond Snowden’s data leaks, 2013 was a year filled with numerous data breaches and failed information security measures. Deal-of-the-day website LivingSocial was hacked, 50 million Evernote user passwords had to be reset, the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts was broken into, big box retailer Target announced that up to 40 million credit and debit cards used around Thanksgiving had been illegally accessed, and in the closing hours of the year, photo sharing app Snapchat discovered that nearly 5 million of its users had their personal information (including most of their phone numbers) posted on the unlawful website, 
Wow. And you worried about your front door being locked. 
Yet so far none of these incidents have caused a massive data backlash like they would have several years ago. Investment in big data – systems that accumulate enormous amounts of information in order to derive business intelligence or consumer insights – remains robust, estimated to be worth $47 billion by 2017. And a survey conducted by the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor just days before the NSA story broke found that 85% of Americans already believed their phone calls, email and online activities were being monitored. The consensus being that to some extent, data breaches are not a big deal and that we’ve given up our privacy and ownership of personal data for “access” to social sites and apps that are supposedly helpful to our lives.  
But trends moving in opposite directions aren’t sustainable. Sooner or later, a data security breach of such magnitude will occur that consumers will very genuinely be scared out of their complacency. Imagine if some act of cyber terrorism undermined the US power grid, putting millions of us in the dark for days or even weeks? Or what if a massive digital identity theft scheme undermined the federal government’s ability to function as a distraction tactic or prelude to more serious violence?  
Backlash Whiplash? 
The trickle-down from such scenarios would have a chilling effect on many industries, including airlines and travel companies as well as advertisers and their third-party technology providers. If some of our most vital governmental and infrastructural institutions can be so easily undermined, how will airlines convince passengers that the more data they share with them, the better and more efficient a flying experience they will enjoy?  
Likewise, advertisers and retailers are some of the most aggressive collectors and users of big data metrics. If the data we as consumers readily relinquish to these companies isn’t made secure, in time our complacency will erode and the big data investment statics estimates mentioned above will fall flat. After all, retailers and advertisers were plenty profitable before the age of big data, anyway.  
As 2014 gathers momentum, it’s time airlines, advertisers and retailers become highly transparent about how the metrics they collect are being used, who that information is being shared with (or sold to) and what steps are being taken to ensure that personal information is as secure as possible.  
By many accounts, 2013 was a disturbing year in terms of data breaches. What the year ahead holds is really anyone’s guess.  
Except, perhaps, Edward Snowden.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Someone’s Got a Case of the Mondays: How to Motivate Employees With Games (Seriously!)

Playing games and the enjoyment of game play is part of the human experience. Throughout civilizations, humans have played games – for entertainment and storytelling. But games have never been just about fun, they have also been used throughout history for education, training, and other practical purposes. And this is still the case today.
When the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt in 1922, he found among the many buried treasures several boards used to play the game of Senet. Apparently board games were very popular in ancient Egypt: scientists have found Senet boards that date back over 5,000 years.
Fast-forward 2,000 years (give or take a few), and we find ourselves in the fastest-paced society ever. Consumers are permanently connected to the Internet (and each other) through mobile devices and record numbers of marketing messages and distractions. So it’s no surprise that one of the most talked about engagement tactics of the past year has been gamification. This means using game dynamics like competition, collection of rewards such as points, badges or levels, and status on leaderboards to give consumers – and customers – a fun experience that taps into their love of games and keeps them engaged with the brand.
But while much has been written about how to harness the power of gamification to improve the customer experience, there hasn’t been much discussion about how gamification can help companies improve their employees’ experiences.
It’s true that work and play don’t go together very well in most employers’ minds. However, The Daedalus Project, which studied human behavior within the context of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), found that players are, in fact, honing work-related skills such as organizing teams, monitoring processes, assigning tasks and tracking budgets.
Who knew?
gamification_definitionThe Adweek article referenced above also cites a recent global survey by Gallup, which found that a whopping 90% of workers aren’t engaged with their jobs – and that disengagement is costing companies about $2 trillion in lost productivity.
Using Gamification Incentives as a Human Resources Strategy 
In an article for Forbes with predictions for 2014 in talent, leadership, and HR, Josh Bersin writes: “Today’s HR organization is no longer judged by its administrative efficiency – it is judged by its ability to acquire, develop, retain, and help manage talent. And more and more HR is being asked to become ‘Data-Driven’ – understand how to best manage people based on real data, not just judgment or good ideas.” Gamification is an excellent way for companies to tap into their employees’ personalities and interests while also gathering useful data.
Several experts agree that companies need to approach their corporate cultures from a gamified perspective in order to better engage their employees – much the same way they’re using gamification tactics to engage their customers.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to implement this kind of initiative at ThinkInk. Maybe create a leaderboard which shows who the fastest employee is? Or perhaps a special perk – say, a monetary bonus or a free lunch – for the employee who gets a thought leadership article or blog post or press release client-ready with the fewest rounds of edits.  Aaaaaahhhhh, the possibilities are endless.
The daily grind can sometimes leave employees feeling disengaged and listless, here at ThinkInk and at every other company. Perhaps if, as bosses and leaders of great teams, we can combine a play ethic with a work ethic, that daily grind can become less grinding and more fun.
It’s food for thought, at the very least.
Has your company implemented gamified initiatives to boost employee engagement? Have they been successful? Share your stories with us in the section below.