Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Hacker, the Tweeter & the enemy within…

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It took several high profile hacks, but Twitter has finally decided it’s time to roll out two-step authentication to ensure a higher degree of user security.

 

Twitter & Cricket an unlikely pairing

 

The social media platform played down account compromises as ‘occasional occurrences’ in its announcement earlier this week, saying that (and trying to downplay the security threats): ‘often account owners actually alert it to email phishing schemes or password breaches taking place elsewhere on the web’.

 

After the Associated Press saw a false tweet rock the US stock market, not to mention a number of high profile hits on the likes of Burger King and Jeep, Twitter is finally succumbing to the popular pressure it so often exacts on others, and is ready to employ a two-step security process.

 

Undoubtedly hackers are a threat to every area of online life, from Twitter accounts, right through to the corridors of power and breaches of classified information. But is there a far more destructive element to social media just waiting to pounce?

 

I would argue that the biggest threat to social media channels and especially Twitter is not so much the faceless hacker sat in a UV lit, windowless basement, but rather the actual person who owns the account.

 

Let’s take a step back from the world of technology for a moment and look to the world of cricket. There’s nothing finer than a day of cricket on a village green in rural England; it’s a test of skill, patience, application, strategy and will power. It also (and maybe somewhat surprisingly) provides us with a ‘how not to guide’ when it comes to Twitter.

 

Do you remember the Kevin Pietersen Twitter debacle in 2010 following him being dropped from the England T20 team? And then again in 2012 when he derided Sky Sports commentator Nick Knight leading to an undisclosed fine from the ECB?

 

Twittergate has struck again this week in the world of cricket, but this time to Australian ‘Baggy Green’ opening batsman David Warner. Warner’s Twitter outburst was directed against journalists, who suggested he was involved in match fixing at the IPL for which he was fined £3,600 by the Australian Cricket board but avoided the selectors axe – unlike KP did back in 2010.

 

The point I am trying to make is that Twitter can be a dangerous medium – if you put it in the hands of the wrong person it can result in severe damage to the reputations of brands and individuals alike. The biggest treat to Twitter accounts for individuals and brands alike is not the Lulzsecs of this world but rather the authenticated users themselves if not moderated.

 

The old saying ‘think before you speak’ has never been more relevant, it’s just had a 21st century revamp – now however it’s a case of think before you tweet.

Startup PR – making the right outsourcing decision

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If you’re a VentureBeat reader, you may have read a recent guest post by startup CEO Kevin Leu on why startups shouldn’t hire a PR agency.

 

 

In it, he asserts that, from his experience, a PR agency cannot provide sufficient value for a startup with limited resources. Now naturally we’re inclined to disagree, not just because we know which side our bread is buttered on, but because we have real experience of building startups from scratch which successfully used PR as a major strategy to produce sales leads and brand recognition, as well as having a front row seat for some of the alleged tricks (and overall lack thereof) that Mr. Leu speaks of in his article.

 

Contrary to what Mr. Leu espouses for startups, PR done well can be the cheapest form of lead generation for any company – including startups.   This has been proven time and time again by empirical studies. The issue lies NOT in the discipline of PR, but in how the startup selects an agency (or employee) and manages the agency (or employee) on a day-day basis.

 

To create a successful relationship with a PR provider, startups must understand how to hire, or when to hire, an agency. Based on our experience, hiring an agency should be viewed in exactly the same light as hiring an employee. In fact, hiring an agency should be an “outsourcing” decision where you’ve made the decision NOT to hire a full-time person, but instead trust an outsourced company to handle the work for you that a full-time employee would. Would you hire a person full-time as Kevin Leu suggests that “doesn’t know how to tell a story”, “rests on their laurels”, “takes more credit than they deserve”, etc?  Of course not, especially in a startup where every hire is critical, and a bad hire can set you back months if not man years in progress.

 

And would a decent agency take you on as a client if they felt they could not produce results?  No.  Just like a really sharp candidate for a job will be the first to drop discussions when he / she realizes there is not a great mutual fit, a reputable agency will do the same.

 

Hiring an agency requires the same level of requirement as hiring an employee and involves skill definition, recruiting, due diligence, and then hand-holding at first to ensure clarity exists between goals, deliverables and measurement. Any agency worth its salt will get under the skin of your company as quickly as possible, but there is a bedding in time and they cannot be expected to be some kind of fairy godmother figure who should and will wave their magic wand constantly to magic up unrealistic results in a matter of minutes. To minimise this bedding in time, the fit is very important. If you are a mobile games startup, you should probably look to “hire” a full-time or outsourced agency who has proven expertise in the mobile gaming space.  Hiring someone who has spent 25 years doing PR around real estate will likely not produce the results you seek any more than hiring a COBOL programmer will meet your Ruby on Rails needs.

 

Second, an agency must be part of your team. They are an outsourced part of your team, so treat them as such. Properly defined and managed, the “bait and switch” that Mr. Leu asserts is commonplace (whereby senior executives who win the business disappear, delegating all account work to their junior ‘underlings’) will not occur any more than hiring an employee and having their second cousin show up for work will. Have you defined your requirements up front?  Have you in your due diligence defined who will be on your team if you sign an agreement with the agency and have you clearly defined what each person’s daily role will be?

 

I am sorry that Mr. Leu has had such bad experiences that it taints his view of agencies. But writing such an article to say that ALL agencies are bad and a waste of money for startups is simply untrue. If we take his arguments seriously, then I suppose no startup should also ever consider outsourcing some development tasks to very talented outsourced developers either, and always hiring full-time staff. His complaint that an agency has other clients than you on their roster and therefore isn’t always solely thinking about you is baffling. If an agency is producing the value and return we agreed to, such that the $ being spent monthly is generating the required return in exposure, lead generation and revenue, then how does this argument really stand up? If I hire a full-time employee for the same, or less costs, but they do not deliver results, then how is this better?  Moreover, agencies often find that the cross-pollination of their client base can deliver dividends in terms of selling stories and gaining coverage – what’s better than pitching one client to a journalist than a range of clients who can represent different angles and present a wealth of perspectives?

 

There are plenty of GREAT agencies that cater to startups, and understand how to derive the best value for a client based on their clearly-defined business goals. The onus is on the entrepreneur to understand how to hire, manage and fire an agency (as well as employees), to understand what he / she wants out of marketing, and how to measure results to know what’s working and what’s not. Agency or employee, if you don’t have a clue what you’re getting, then how do you ever know what’s working?

The Internet of Things: intelligence embedded in everyday life

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An average person has at least two objects connected to the Internet, and this is expected to grow to seven by 2015, representing 25 billion wirelessly connected devices globally; and by 2020 this number is expected to triple, to a staggering 75 billion.

 

Intelligence embedded in everyday life

 

The Internet of today offers access to content and information through connection to web pages from multiple terminals like tablets, smart phones or TVs. The next step in its evolution will make it possible to access information related to the physical environment through connected objects, capable of sensing the environment and communicating through smart chips using Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID), crucially with or without human intervention – this is the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).

 

There are two main areas of discussion to bear in mind when talking about the IoT: first, what technological framework will be needed to unleash the potential economic and societal benefits of the IoT; and secondly, how can individuals and companies alike ensure that their rights are respected with the exponential growth of so much data.

 

From the perspective of society, the potential represented by the idea of the IoT is enormous. Imagine this: if a university lecturer cancels a morning lecture because they are sick, students’ alarm clocks and coffee machines could automatically be reset, giving them an extra hour in bed; if an elderly person forgets to take an essential pill, a warning text could be sent to a close family member, or even to a local emergency centre, to check that everything was ok; or a car may even reroute you around a potential traffic jam automatically.

 

Your fridge could sense that you were running low on milk, or a bag of salad is coming to the end of its use-by date and automatically talk to your online shopping account via your iPad, ordering a delivery for when you arrive home, informing you via text – the possibilities are quite literally as infinite as an individual’s imagination.

 

There are already devices that incorporate intelligent elements of the IoT, such as smart meters for energy grids that allow you to view the real time effects of using various electronic devices on your electric bill, and smart televisions that sync directly to your mobile phones or other mobile devices and with the technological restraints of IPv4 now loosed thanks to IPv6 the IoT is rapidly gaining pace. Indeed, the capabilities of the IoT are now only limited only by the ingenuity of manufacturers, software designers and platform providers in how they can make their products intelligent.

 

We shouldn’t expect that the IoT to happen overnight, and manufacturers need to ensure that the world’s underlying IT infrastructure is ready for the data deluge that the next generation of Internet-connected cars, kettles and washing machines will bring.

 

Man’s vision has always exceeded his grasp and, it is good that our ambitions continue to exceed our current abilities as it will spur us on to deliver on our imaginations. The IoT promises many possibilities, but one surety is that it will change our everyday lives just as radically, if not more so, than the birth of the commercial web itself did back in the 1980s.

 

 

Think before you speak… (and other expressions)

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Working in the communications industry should make us more aware of clear expression and language than the average  Joe Blogs on the street.

 

 

Our clients pay us to, in part at least, develop content which not only gets across their key messages but also conveys them in a manner which is both clear to the desired audience and concise for those reading it.

 

Nothing highlights the need for these attributes more than some of the more comical emails and blogs that often get circulated between groups of friends and colleagues as a distraction during the working day and one that landed in my inbox last week is a particularly apt example of that.

 

Entitled ‘How do court recorders keep straight faces’ this particular email provided a sample of some of the humorous conversations between a lawyer and witness in the courtroom. While it may not be an example of corporate communications in the traditional sense it is definitely a clear example of the importance of thinking before you speak and considering your audience….

 

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget..
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

 

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

 

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He’s 20, much like your IQ.

 

ATTORNEY: She had three children , right?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
WITNESS: None.
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

 

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I’m going with male.

 

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.