By Natalie Hansen, Social Media Specialist and PR Associate, A.wordsmith
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree six years ago, one of my communications professors introduced the class to something called the “Internet of Things.” He explained that in the not-so-distant future, we’d be living in what basically amounted to the home in that classic Disney Channel movie, Smart House—refrigerators that could order eggs and milk for us when we ran out, kitchen counters that could access the latest blood work from our doctor and prep meals for any nutrient deficiencies, and plants that could send a text to remind us that it was watering time. He noted that this world would mean big changes for the public relations industry. At the time, it seemed little more than Jetsons-esque dreaming to me. What would I ever need a texting plant for, and why would it matter in my career?
College me was naïve.
Less than a decade after that class, the Internet of Things (IoT) is here. I don’t own a plant that texts me (yet), but my dad does have the ability to unlock his front door remotely from his phone. I wear a FitBit on my wrist that communicates with three separate apps on my phone and records information that my doctor has me tracking as part of my health plan. Samsung announced their “Family Hub” refrigerator at CES earlier this year; it’s equipped with interior cameras you can view from your phone and the ability to shop online for groceries directly from the fridge’s screen. And, the IoT has begun to impact my career. Here’s a run-down of the significant changes the IoT will bring to PR clientele, crisis management planning, and engagement strategies.
Client Base and Services: We’re All in Tech PR Now
As an agency in the Silicon Forest, A.wordsmith has the opportunity to work with an eclectic mix of tech clients. New startups and technology organizations launch every day, driving more opportunities for agencies specializing in tech PR. However, PR agencies will likely see the demand for tech knowledge and experience grow no matter what their specialty. Many non-tech organizations will increasingly need technical knowledge as they incorporate the IoT’s connectivity into their business.
Social media, already a vital part of any business’ communication plan, will soon connect to a variety of IoT devices. These platforms will have to be considered when designing social media campaigns so that content will be optimized for viewing. From corporate giants to neighborhood grocery stores, any business on Facebook and Twitter will have to evaluate how content appears to their customers. Media pros already have moved from optimizing social content for a desktop to a mobile device, and they will now need to consider how the posts are appearing on the screens of household appliances and other tools.
Crisis Management: Information Security for the Masses
With any new technology, one of the first things users will do is figure out how to hack it. For the past two years, DEFCON has hosted an Internet of Things Village that has highlighted how vulnerable IoT devices can be. Hackers have worked their way into everything from cloud-based baby monitors to Internet-connected door locks. For PR pros, this means more potential crises for our clients. Agencies working with the manufacturers of these devices need to consider a crisis response plan specific to both major and minor breaches, especially as it relates to customer information leaks.
Non-tech businesses are also at risk as they integrate these devices into their organizations and communications plans. Many corporations assume they don’t have any information worth hacking into, but PR teams need to squash this myth and create crisis plans that include a data breach response. It’s a good idea for PR teams to initiate the discussion with clients and their tech departments about what they’re doing to keep their company secure. More devices connected to each other and the cloud mean more avenues for problems and crises, and preventative measures can save both the communications and IT teams headaches later on.
Engagement: Stepping Softly in a Minefield of Opportunity
We already know that consumers hate being sold to through traditional advertising and social media, and this frustration will likely increase as the IoT grows. No one wants an ad on their Internet-enabled fridge. What they will want is authentic communication in their increasingly connected world. Social media managers will need to hone their soft-sell skills and take advantage of the “social” part of social media. The social media platforms and the devices they connect to are a means of conversation, not a brand megaphone, and consumers increasingly expect quick, genuine responses from brands they reach out to. IoT devices potentially can offer a more direct line to individual consumers than social media currently does, and the content we share there will need to be individually targeted. If we’re going to send a tweet to consumers on their smart watches, it’d better be worth their time. Though finding the conversations that truly align with a business’s goals is a process that successful PR pros have always worked to fine-tune, the IoT adds another layer that makes it all the more important.
Though technology and security issues can sometimes induce fear, this is an exciting time to work in PR. IoT offers plenty of opportunity to flex our imaginations and create new revenue streams. PR teams should prepare now for the changes ahead for their clients, lead the discussion on creating strategic crisis plans, and refine their engagement skills to best take advantage of the opportunities ahead. The future of tech and communications is bright – and my not-so-green thumb could probably use a texting plant.
Natalie Hansen is a social media specialist and PR associate at A.wordsmith, a boutique public relations firm specializing in thought leadership and brand storytelling for leading business-to-business and consumer organizations. Prior to settling in Portland, OR and joining the A.wordsmith team, she lived in five other states in five years, and gained experience in social media engagement, public relations writing and campaigns, and event management. Natalie holds a master’s degree in public communication and technology from Colorado State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.