How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

Wearable tech in the business context

In July, I took part in a public debate at the House of Commons about ethics in PR and wearable technology.

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the debate served a highly useful purpose of bringing a timely topic to front of mind amongst a community of communicators which considered the arguments supporting two different points of view (that there is an ethical issue for PR about wearables, or there isn’t) in a lively debate.

On September 30, the CIPR is planning a further debate on the topic, this time as part of Ethics Month, an initiative led by the PRSA in the US on the broader subject of ethics in public relations. I’ll be participating in that one as well. Information soon on the CIPR website.

So the outward-looking perspective about wearable technology is getting a lot of welcome attention, enabling communicators to give their attention to what I believe is a topic well worth debating right now.

But what about the inward-looking perspective – inside the enterprise? Isn’t that a facet complementing the outward look, a mirror reflection of the same topic, from different but complementary angles?

That’s what I hope to find out when I host a table discussion at Simply SMILE 2014 in London on September 25. Organized by Simply Communicate, this will be the fifth such SMILE conference (SMILE = Social Media In Large Enterprises) and it’s being held as part of Social Media Week London, a week-long event framework that is the foundation for ideas, trends, insights and inspiration to help people and businesses understand how to achieve more in a hyper-connected world.

I’ll be one of a dozen table-discussion leaders during the day, so you’ll have plenty to choose from to be part of something that matches your interest or curiosity.

Here’s the detail of how I see the discussion format:

How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

A public debate has been taking place this year around the ethical implications of wearable technology – the mobile devices you wear on your person, ranging from the esoteric (such as Google Glass), to the quantified self (think of health monitoring and results-sharing via wristbands), to the practical (smartwatches that connect to business databases).

While the public debate has focused squarely on public concerns surrounding ethics, and very much surrounding potential PR and reputational issues, there’s another debate we ought to be having that flips the coin on the public focus and consider wearable technology from the inside perspective.

In this session, Neville Hobson will lead a discussion that considers the ethical concerns and potential issues over wearable technology in the workplace, from employee use of devices, employer oversight, privacy, and individual responsibilities – and considers how best to prepare for a sea change in communication and information-sharing as wearable technology enters the mainstream.

I hope you’ll come along and share your points of view. The SMILE conferences are terrific events, always with outstanding speakers and discussion groups – see the agenda for the September 25 event – so why not sign up now to be sure of your place.

See you there!

The long vision of SpecSavers versus the short-sightedness of Boots

If Satisfied...

I’ve always believed that it’s the little things that really matter when it comes to excellent customer service.

I’m talking about the types of thing that don’t require a huge effort by an employee of a company, or a conscious thought that an action is required because of customer engagement training or a policy about customer service. It’s more about the willingness and ability of the employee to know instinctively that what he or she does to address a customer need, request or concern will have an effect in some way on the relationship with that customer.

In sum, it’s all about an employee with confidence – in his or her abilities, knowledge of the company and its whole ethos – to make a positive difference in how the customer feels about that employee and the company he or she represents, and vice versa. It can have a positive impact that lasts for years.

I have a perfect example to share with you, two contrasting experiences of my own.

Boots

A week ago, I visited a Boots store, one of the large out-of-town stores, looking for a case for my sunglasses. I wanted a soft case not one of those hard shell-type cases. They seem to be very hard to find but I figured surely Boots must have such things. They do glasses, after all, although this particular store didn’t have an opticians department.

But sure enough, I found precisely what I was looking for in a pretty logical place – the section in the store with a big sign above it saying ‘Sunglasses.’ The items had no price tags I could see but I thought they’d tell me at the checkout how much they cost.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the checkout and the cashier said he couldn’t let me have a case unless I bought a pair of sunglasses. It turned out that the cases were promo items, giveaways with the sunglasses. I asked him if I could just buy a case. That wasn’t possible, he said, as there would be no price reference to the case when he scanned the barcode.

As I was buying a handful of other products on this visit, I asked the cashier if I could have the case anyway. I said it with a big smile, even if it was a bit cheeky. But he said no, he wasn’t allowed to do that.

I noticed he hesitated before he said that – and I’ll swear he really wanted to say yes.

But it was ‘No’ that I heard so I paid for the items I had and left the store. On my drive along the motorway, I mused on that experience, one that will remain with me when I think of Boots and the service offered by its employees. The store cashier was polite and friendly enough but unempowered and without confidence, it seemed clear to me. Maybe such behaviour might be a major improvement focus after Walgreens completes its £6 billion acquisition of Boots.

Maybe they’ll import some good old-fashioned American style of customer service! Mind you, that doesn’t look like perfection at Walgreens either.

SpecSavers

Wind forward to Friday and a visit to London with my wife. Walking along Cardinal Walk, Victoria, my wife spotted a SpecSavers store and said “I bet they have a case!” It wasn’t entirely a random suggestion as SpecSavers is where we both had eye tests and bought new glasses (including sunglasses) in July, although not at this specific store.

So we went in and I asked the young man who approached us if he had a soft case. And he did. He asked me if I was a SpecSavers’ customer; my reply, of course, was yes although not this particular store, to which his response was, “Here you are, with our compliments” referring to the case. And he included a soft lens cleaning cloth for good measure.

Now that’s what I call service! Especially that final gesture, adding the lens cloth. Nothing earth-moving in terms of galvanising resources, a cost implied or otherwise, or making a huge fuss. Just one empowered employee with lots of confidence, a natural ability to engage and a winning smile.

These are two different experiences in two different stores from these two different firms. Each firm suggests excellent customer service is what each offers in all its stores, as you’d expect them to do, even if the corporate structure of each firm is different: SpecSavers is more of a franchise model than Boots. So I’m not suggesting my experiences reflect what you might expect in every store at each company, all the time. This is people we’re talking about, after all.

What I am saying is that these were my experiences with Boots and SpecSavers last week and on Friday respectively, experiences that, believe me, will influence not only my own behaviour when it comes to visiting a pharmacy or an opticians in future, but also in what I may answer to anyone who asks me what I think of each firm.

Like I said earlier, it is the little things that really matter.

(Photo at top via Frank Gruber under Creative Commons License)

Weighing up the worth of sharing AP content or not

Retweet to your followers?

A news item on Techmeme caught my eye, so I clicked to read it.

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website,” the headline said, linking to a report by the Associated Press about a lawsuit against Oracle filed by the US state of Oregon alleging some pretty serious malfeasance on Oracle’s part over a health care website.

It’s the kind of business story that interests me, and one I tend to share on Twitter as some of my community there might also be interested in it. It’s also the kind of thing I might share in my Flipboard magazine – which, if I choose, can also re-share that share across Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook – to bring it to a wider audience. It might even become a news item or discussion topic for the weekly business podcast I co-host.

Much depends on the topic, who it’s about, which publication it’s in, how credible and timely it is, how well presented the story is, etc.

I don’t especially seek out stories or reports by the AP. Yet I encounter AP reports a lot, either direct reports filed by an AP journalist like this one, or as a newswire story reported in another online publication.

(AP) Orgeon sues Oracle...

In whatever case, as with all sharing of content published online by others, I’m mindful of copyright.

But get a load of the AP’s copyright statement at the foot of this story (and in every story on their website).

AP copyright text

The yellow highlight in the screenshot is my emphasis of the off-putting wording:

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I’m not a lawyer, but that looks to me like the AP won’t allow the kind of sharing I do across social networks, eg, retweeting a link to their story, never mind any content from it. Wouldn’t that be regarded as “broadcasting”?

That’s not what they intend, surely?

Well, take a look at the terms of use referenced in the full footer statement, in particular numbers 5 and 6:

AP Terms of Use

(Number 6 even mentions ‘fax’ which makes me think this wording was written in the command-and-control heyday of the mid- to late-90s and unchanged since.)

I’d say number 5 makes it clear that this is what they intend. Even retweeting a link on Twitter isn’t something they’d like you to do by the looks of it:

5. Except as provided in this agreement, you may not copy, reproduce, publish, transmit, transfer, sell, rent, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, repost, perform, display, or in any way commercially exploit the Materials carried on this site, nor may you infringe upon any of the copyrights or other intellectual property rights contained in the Materials. You may not remove or alter, nor cause to be removed or altered, any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices or visual marks and logos from the Materials.

I suppose the key words here are “commercially exploit” which I guess means making money from the AP’s intellectual property without permission, recognizing their rights or paying them for usage.

Yet surely there are better ways in communicating such intent that don’t leave you feeling that whatever you do to amplify their story under the fair use or fair dealing aspects of copyright laws, you should probably look over your shoulder just in case you see a lawyer bearing down on you.

I contrast this unfriendly attitude with that of an arch-competitor of the AP – Reuters.

Reuters actively encourages you to share its content!

Look at this same story, for instance, as reported by Reuters on its website – with social share buttons arrayed at the top:

(Reuters) Oregon sues Oracle...

Not only that, the footer in the story repeats those social share buttons and also tells you how many of your friends have recommended the story on Facebook and/or urges you to be the first to do so, as it does in every news story on the Reuters website.

Reuters encouraging sharing...

And not a copyright notice or terms of use link anywhere except among general site links in a specific area at the very bottom of the website, each of which is written in far less draconian language. Much more concise and contemporary, too.

Comparing these two different approaches to creating and publishing copyrighted content that others inevitably would wish to share, which one gives you confidence in sharing with your social online communities? Which one behaves like trusting you is the default rather than the other way around? At a time of continuing evolution of mainstream media and how people use online to get, consume and share their news, which one appears equally confident in making content available online that will be shared and so actively encourages it?

In essence, which one is the publisher who gets it about content-sharing, trends, behaviours and the social web?

I know which one gives me that confidence.

PS: As it happens, I shared the AP story on Google+ as I wanted to highlight some of the text that I couldn’t do in Twitter (more than 140 characters). Plus my community there is, broadly, more tech-oriented and so I thought I might get some interesting comments back. None yet though…

Scaling visual messaging and the attraction for marketers

WhatsApp

The rise of mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp – used by at least 500,000,000 people a month around the world who share 700 million photos and 100 million videos every single day – is one growing facet of a multi-dimensioned object that I call “the visual social web.”

It’s not a separate thing to the social web; rather, it’s a part of it that I think will have greater significance to people who use such a service, because it’s about pictures not only words.

And what about words. aka text messaging? That was the prime reason for many to start using a service like WhatsApp: that and the fact that it lets you send and receive the equivalent of SMS messages without incurring charges from your mobile operator (because it can use wifi not only cellular networks for such messaging transmission and reception).

According to some metrics, WhatsApp users send and receive 64 billion text messages every day – it’s almost mind-boggling – so text is a huge part of overall online communication between individuals.

Yet it’s visual messaging that I think is the more disruptive, primarily because of the appeal it has for marketers who want to get their story-telling out to their target audience across social networks that are richer and more appealing than just words alone. I’m sure you will have seen or at least heard about numerous studies and research in the past year that confirm the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The WhatsApp metrics about photos and videos are compelling indeed in this regard, and I would expect: 1) to see those metrics increase even more; and 2) to see more interest by marketers in visual story-telling that actually engages people, not simply broadcast messages to them.

For all that to be in place, you need to know a lot more about those you wish to engage with, what marketers traditionally call the target audience that I mentioned earlier.

That made me think about a dark side that I can see happening. Maybe it’s the big hurdle for marketers to jump over in their learnings about how to really connect with people in the mobile online world.

I’m referring to news this week that Tumblr plans to scan all the images on its site for insight into a person’s sentiment about a brand.

That makes total sense to me as part of the essential need to better understand your target audience. If technology has evolved to make it possible to actually do that at scale, what a tool!

And the dark side I mentioned? Steve Hall at AdRants explains it succinctly:

[…] One wonders what will become of all the people who post “I hate brand xxx” photos. Will the brand police swoop in and pummel the person with trollish commentary? And if someone has positive things to say about a brand will they incessantly be held up as a poster child for said brand on social media? And if anything remotely like this happens, will Tumblr users game the system for their own benefit? Or simply punk a brand by enlisting all their followers for a bit of viral shenanigans?

As someone said nearly a decade ago, it’s not what the software does, it’s what the user does.

Oh, and check this out – ‘Selfie Stick’ Takes Rooftopping Self-Portraits to the Next Level of Crazy:

Rooftop selfie...

The new frontier for marketers?

(Screenshot at top via Mashable)

Would you be happier without Facebook?

99 Days of Freedom

If you were not happy – outraged, even – with how Facebook behaved over the mood experiment they conducted last month, an experiment from a Dutch creative agency might be right up your street.

What Facebook did was manipulate information posted on nearly 700,000 users’ home pages that showed that the social network could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of emotional contagion.

Now Dutch creative agency Just has come up with 99 Days of Freedom, a call to action for Facebook users to demonstrate their disapproval of Facebook by switching off from the social network for 99 days.

[…It] asks users to refrain from Facebook use for a period of 99 consecutive days and report back on how the hiatus affects personal notions of happiness. The initiative’s website, 99daysoffreedom.com, provides a set of simple user instructions, which include posting a “time-off” image as a profile picture and starting a personalized, 99-day countdown clock. From there, participants are asked to complete anonymous “happiness surveys” at the 33, 66 and 99-day marks, with results posted to the initiative’s website as they’re compiled. The initiative will also host a message board through which participants can post anonymous accounts of how an extended break from Facebook is impacting their lives.

It’s a kind of mood experiment in reverse.

It’s also a cool initiative that gets Just a lot of attention for its imagination and creativity, as well as for the initiative itself. If it gets traction, it could focus considerable public attention on broad issues of online behaviours, manipulation of those behaviours by social networks, what companies do with our personal information, how we spend time online, etc – all hot topics today and great ones for ongoing public debate and discussion.

In its press release announcing 99 Days of Freedom, Just also talks about the amount of time people spend on Facebook:

[…] According to Facebook, its 1.2 billion users spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site, reading updates, following links or browsing photos. Over a three-month period, that adds up to more than 28 hours which, the initiative’s creators contend, could be devoted to more emotionally fulfilling activities – learning a new skill, performing volunteer work or spending time (offline) with friends and family.

The subjective conclusion will appeal to many users, to be sure. My view is that many other users will be quite comfortable from an emotionally-fulfilling perspective – or any other one – with spending 28 hours on Facebook during any three-month period.

You could apply the same argument to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… Horses for courses.

Still, 99 Days of Freedom is an interesting experiment and it will be equally interesting to see how it goes, how many people sign up to do it – 16,748 when I looked at the website just now – and what conclusions arise at the end of each person’s 99 days. I’d love to see a brand try it!

Give it a go?

Enjoy life!

 

The only way is ethics #PRethics

The debate in Committee Room No 10 / pic by Kate Matlock

Committee Room number 10 in the House of Commons in London was the setting in the evening of July 7 for a vibrant debate on a big topic, formally titled “Wearable technology is an ethical nightmare for the communications, marketing and PR professions.”

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the motion was proposed by Stephen Davies and seconded by me; and opposed by Stephen Waddington and seconded by Claire Walker.

About 100 people formed the audience, many of whom contributed opinion and running commentary on Twitter as each of the four speakers made their cases for the motion and against it. Once the formal addresses had been made, debate chair Alastair McCapra opened the debate to the floor where 18 people offered their perspectives to the debate.

It was a most interesting few hours. Opinion during the motions seemed pretty evenly divided, which seems to me to be fairly reflected in the commentary on Twitter. But when it came to the moment of voting, we were firmly defeated – 55 votes against the motion with only 28 for it.

Yet those stark numbers hide one reality, which is that it’s clear to me that this topic is not as black and white as it seems, offering only agreement or disagreement as your options. It is phenomenally nuanced, with so many shades of grey, and where almost everything you might say needing to start with “It depends.”

It’s also clear that the two opposing sides to the motion were far closer in thinking and belief than it may seem. Closer in the view that the topic is largely about people’s behaviours rather than about the wearable tech – meaning, what the tech enables people to do and so what they do or don’t do with it – and largely about providing codes of conduct that would be the roadmap for PR practitioners’ behaviour in how they use wearable tech.

I wholly support that idea although I’m far less optimistic that PR practitioners will simply abide by a code of conduct and not do bad things. If some PRs can’t get even the basics right, why should I have confidence that they can be trusted to do the right thing on their own with something far more important? Having a code is great, but it needs by-example leadership and professional behaviour to make it work at all.

Hence the “it depends” idea where I firmly believe that there won’t be an ethical nightmare as long as we – the profession, consultancies and clients, and individuals – take firm and clear steps to make the landscape anything but an ethical nightmare. We must do this, actively and proactively, collectively and individually.

Unlike my fellow speakers in the debate, I didn’t make a prepared speech. Instead, I prepared talking points from which I highlighted my perspectives to support Stephen. For the purpose of this narrative, let me highlight the bottom line of my argument:

Is there (or will there be) an ethical nightmare for PR, marketing and communication professionals?

I have 3 answers…

Yes, if…

1. Yes, if we do nothing to raise awareness and educate our publics on the SWOT of wearable tech.

2. Yes, if we fail to recognize the critical importance of the trust consumers place in our clients, in our employers and in governments that their behaviours are ethical.

3. Yes, if we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to advance our profession at the vanguard of understanding the ethics, scope and scale surrounding the enabling technologies that are before us, and what they will do – and do not – for our clients, our employers, consumers and businesses, and society at large.

Will we do this?

You tell me.

And here’s the argument in detail by the lead debaters:

My complete notes on Scribd:

I’ve seen some great reports and commentary about the debate, notably:

And of course, the curation of all the tweets, etc, in Storify by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

And finally, credit where credit’s due – hard to resist a pun on the word ‘ethics’ as I use in my headline above. “The only way is ethics” is a play on “The only way is Essex,” a popular (?) reality TV show in the UK. So, full credit to Wadds for first use in the debate!