10 Signs You Should Invest in Public Relations

21 Apr

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By MCA Public Relations

Business is tough, competition can be ruthless, and by all accounts, communication with each other has drastically changed. Whether you operate under a B2B or B2C structure, communicating to your customer, investors and the press can be challenging. Additionally, social media has challenged the immediacy of news and its proliferation, whether good or bad. So, how do we manage our own information or find some sense of control?

Public relations (PR) may be the solution. According to the Public Relations Society of America, public relations is defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” It can be a momentous task to properly develop a communication process. Here are some signs you might need to invest in public relations to create the best opportunities for your company.

  1. Inconsistent messaging and positioning: There is a lack of consistent messaging across all platforms—web, press releases, social media, blogs, etc. If all communication channels are not aligned, both visually and verbally, you need PR.
  2. Unprepared for crisis situations: The realization that you are unprepared for crisis situations may be too little, too late. This is often an in-the-moment realization that you are not prepared to deal with a crisis (i.e. the death of a CEO, an accusation of financial shenanigans, a shareholder lawsuit). If you do not have a preemptive strike planned for avoiding disaster, you need PR.
  3. Pushed around by the competition: The competition continues to out-position, out-message, out-market you. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their product or services out-performs the quality of yours, but they are at least communicating their benefits. They will be considered the thought leader. Big hint, when a list of the top/most innovative/best companies is listed with all of your competitors and not you, you need PR.
  4. Poor internal communication: Along with consistent messaging and positioning, everyone in the company needs to understand and be able to clearly explain the company’s value in the market. Establish an overarching corporate vision. If an executive or employee cannot quickly and clearly explain the company’s position and product within 30 seconds or less, you need PR.
  5. Unidentified company spokesperson: Although a clear corporate vision should be established, it does not mean all employees are qualified to speak on behalf of the company. There should be a designated employee that can speak to the position and product of the company, offering a valuable and credible source of information. Likewise, there should also be a designated employee for the press to contact if they want to speak to an executive. If for example, at a trade show or event, you do not have press meetings arranged or you have unqualified members of the team being interviewed on behalf of the company, you need PR.
  6. PR stands for press release: The acronym PR stands for public relations. A press release, although a good start, will not do all the work that a public relations strategy will do. There is much more to public relations than just a news release. This very Field of Dreams mentality, “If you build it they will come,” is limiting. If you are still waiting for the press to pick up your press release, you need PR.
  7. Unrealistic expectations for news coverage: There are many opportunities to receive press coverage as a company. You need news-worthy content to start. Knowing your audience and who might be interested in your news is a good way to guide your expectations of coverage. As much as you want to be in the Wall Street Journal, even some of the strongest pieces of news won’t make it there. If you are looking for the right publications to pick up your story, you need PR.
  8. Inconsistent dissemination of information: Just as we can see inconsistency of messages and positioning, inconsistent dissemination of information can be confusing.  For example, infrequent press releases (although we also don’t want too many), irregular tweets or posts on social media, a website that is outdated or needs updated posts can leave your company and your news forgotten. If you can’t remember the last time you posted on social media or published a press release, you need PR.
  9. Leaving investors and media confused: Consistent dissemination helps investors and press to follow your company story, be a part of the journey. Say for example, you have just acquired a company and you send out a press release to announce it. Investors and media are confused by your choice. It just doesn’t make sense. You have left gaps in your story; the choice to acquire a company was not communicated strategically. If you can’t remember your communication strategy or don’t have one in place, you need PR.
  10. Limited relationships with media: It is a huge misconception that you need to purchase advertisements in order to talk to the media, whether it is at a trade show or conference, or you want to pitch a recent press release. Yes, while we encourage companies to support publications by purchasing advertising and sponsorships (they are a business after all); there is a separation of church and state. Fostering healthy relationships with the media will allow you to more easily receive coverage, provide stories of interest to individual media, and avoid costly advertising. If you are spending unnecessary marketing budget to meet the press, you need PR.

Writing Tips from the PR Perspective

31 Mar

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By MCA Public Relations

Effective communication is a key part of any business. Although we may rely heavily on visuals these days and social media has made conversation more casual, written communication is an important skill to have—a timeless skill to have. Whether your work requires press releases, business proposals, emails or maybe a blog, small mishaps or grammatical errors, although common, can communicate laziness or a lack of attention to detail. Not to worry, you won’t be a writing wiz right away. It takes constant practice, a second set of eyes for editing, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. In the meantime, take note from our MCA team of a few tips to have in mind and mistakes to avoid.

Angie: Wordiness

Wordiness is a nine-letter word. For most readers, it quickly becomes a four-letter word when agonizing through lines of poor word choices, jargon and clichés. Often, wordiness forces the reader to repeatedly go over sentences to understand their meaning. Respect your Reader!  Don’t waste their time.

Not being wordy and writing concisely is generous. It’s generous because you, the writer, are acknowledging that the reader’s time is valuable and you don’t intend to waste it. To be clear, by “wordy,” I don’t simply mean using a lot of words. Many great sentences can go on at length. I mean omit needless words. It’s much easier to be verbose than concise. The philosopher Pascal understood this when he wrote, “Please forgive the long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.” First drafts are usually wordy. Reviewing what you’ve written for needless words is tedious in itself. Once you’ve spotted them, you generally can’t simply delete them and be done with it; the sentence has to be reshaped. Good writers from the past and today, always go through the pruning process. Take time to omit needless words, review and revise. So respect your readers and be generous. Very quickly, you’ll earn your readers’ respect!

David: Spell Check

When you write an email, be sure to re-read it all the way through (not just spell check it) before you click send.  It’s easy to type “off the cuff” in an email, and in doing so one can make mistakes like misspell words that won’t get caught in the Spelling tool (e.g., “their” versus “there”).

Diane: Active Voice

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”  This wise old adage applies nicely to our next tip: Use the active voice when you write.

All too regularly, I review written material that confuses me and requires me to re-read the piece again, often more than once. In most all of these cases, the writer used the passive voice throughout his or her piece. Without the clarity and power of a strong action verb, it’s easy for both the reader, and the writer, to miss the point. The Writing Workbook from the University of Wisconsin sums it up better than I can.

“At the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb; the converse is true as well–at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb.”

Let’s quickly review the differences between passive and active voice. In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject of sentence performs the action. In a sentence written in the passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here are two examples:

  • Active Voice: The chairman provided additional context on the financials after the meeting.
  • Passive Voice: Additional context on the financials was provided by the chairman after the meeting.

Both sentences say the same thing, but the first sentence with the active voice more clearly defines the subject and the action he or she took. With the passive voice, the reader takes longer to process the material—which is a burden, especially when a document is filled with passive language. Author Stephen King agrees.  “Two pages of passive voice–just about any business document ever written, in other words, not to mention reams of bad fiction–make me want to scream. It’s weak, it’s circuitous, and it’s frequently tortuous, as well.”

If you find yourself struggling to write in the active voice, keep with it—old habits die hard. I challenge you to write your next letter, email or message all in the active voice!

Lisa: Fluff

Never use “We are happy/excited/thrilled/etc…” in a quote for a press release, case study or similar document.  Some companies like these phrases because they think they’re “safe,” but they’re fluff. Quotes should be used to expand on facts – why the project or partnership will bring added value to customers or the industry served. A quote also a good way to make use of anecdotal data that the spokesperson is anxious to share.

Marie: Salutations

I’ll quote Allison Ford of DivineCaroline on some simple, but critical career advice when it comes to email salutation etiquette:  “When we speak face-to-face, body language and vocal intonations give our words context, but when we’re communicating electronically, we don’t have those luxuries, and it’s extremely easy for a harmless phrase to be interpreted as a rude gesture. An inappropriate salutation can discredit even an otherwise acceptable email… Most people know that some things, like emoticons or slang, are not acceptable in business emails, but few people give thought to their salutations. However, the way you open and close a message can say just as much to the reader as the email itself.”

My advice, similar to what Ms. Ford is trying to get across, is use plain common sense.  For example, some greeting no-no’s: “Hey, what’s up”; “Hey there” are just not appropriate in email communications, especially when you’re contacting a client or journalist.  On the opposite side of the coin, don’t just omit a greeting either.  Start business emails with something like:  “Dear Xname” or “Good morning/afternoon X”.

The same common sense rule applies when ending your email.  “Hugs” or ”Yours Truly” even when you are familiar with a client or journalist are just not appropriate.  “Kind Regards” or “Sincerely” are always safe bets—both warm yet professional.

I can’t say it any better than Ms. Ford, “Opening and closing emails with the proper salutation is the best way to make sure that your communications stay effective and professional, as well as personal. Emails do the talking for us … be sure you know what yours are saying.”

With that said, thank you for reading our blog today.

Sincerely,

Marie Labrie, CEO

 

 

Making Wearables Wearable

29 Feb

By Meagan Hardcastle

I love technology, but I’ve yet to embrace the wearable craze. While I am constantly amazed by what these devices can do and the new technology being integrated with them every day, I haven’t found one that has compelled me to personally join the wearable revolution. I have friends who rave about their Apple watches and Fitbits—I even bought one for a family member—so I’m well aware of their popularity and functionality. So, what will it take for me to adopt this wearable craze in my own life?

1. Seamless integration

While wearables are trendy, I’ve hesitated to don the clunky fitness tracker as it doesn’t suit my own taste. A seamless, more lifestyle-integrated design would likely catch my attention.

Recent developments in wearables, as well as in displays, and in the Internet of Things, are making huge inroads into fashion. We’ve heard about wearable technology beyond the activity tracker for awhile now, but there are recent products that are even more versatile and practical—the Apple Watch, for example, doesn’t leave many features behind. Consumers want their lives to be easier. Having a product seamlessly integrated into their lives while adding function and utility is more than a perk; it’s a necessity. Companies today have the seemingly impossible task of creating a product that strikes the balance between performance, price, form factor, features, and, now…fashion.

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Techcrunch found that advancements in technology make it possible to implement more fashion-forward devices: “This drives the development toward a one-package solution integrating multiple chips to enable smaller, more fashionable and longer-lasting wearables.” The smaller chips get, the smaller the device can get, the more fashionable it will be. While it’s unlikely someone will compliment my wearable, they may very well pay me a compliment about my bracelet or necklace, and be surprised to find out that it is a wearable. Even New York Fashion Week is recognizing the popularity of wearable devices. Tech companies will be hard pressed by consumers to implement these fashion trends.

2. Multiple Capabilities

Over the past two months, I’ve been on this paleo kick. My health is important to me, and I think the next step in this whole lifestyle change should include a wearable. Monitoring and tracking my heart rate, number of steps and hours of sleep are all capabilities I want to find in my wearable. Having the health monitoring capabilities in my wearable make sense, but can I also get one that’s waterproof? I don’t necessarily want it to replace my mobile device, but connectivity is crucial. Personal data should also be protected. I have thought a lot about what wearable I would purchase, but rather than make a purchase now only to find an upgraded solution later, I’m searching for that all-in-one product.

Strides in technology and fashion also introduce a new and important feature for women—safety. Providing wearable devices that double as a jewelry piece are providing a sense of security. These connected devices can be life saving. You can notify your friends in an emergency with a Cuff or wearing a Roar for Good.

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With an alarm and GPS safety, doubling as a piece of jewelry, these wearables can offer powerful capabilities and peace of mind. These and other devices are still in funding stages, but would definitely amp up the demand as an added wearable component. I think that Sri Peruvemba, head of marketing at the Society for Information Display, said it best in ECN Magazine: “[Today’s devices are] awaiting the killer app that will move them from ‘cool’ to ‘nice-to-have’ to a true must-have technology.” I’m still waiting to think about wearables as a “must-have technology.”

3. Cost Effective

As we all know, wearables are increasing in popularity. According to Gartner, wearable devices are projected to grow 18.4% in 2016. More accessories and customization capabilities are being created. However, those accessories come with a price tag. If I want seamless integration in a jewelry piece, it costs more money beyond the already pricey wearable. The high purchase cost is enough of a deterrent just to have a “cool” technology. With all the competition in wearable devices, it’s also a strategic race of offering the most updated, versatile, and stylish product with the perfect price to match.

 

Where to Go from Here?

Not to worry, I’m not leaving this reflection on wearables hopelessly indecisive. If technology has proven anything, it’s that a solution always emerges. Two years ago, Gartner predicted that by 2017, 30% of wearables will be inconspicuous to the eye. The technology continues to offer futuristic promise to consumers. Thinking from the perspective of a consumer ─ say, a recent grad working in PR ─ what kinds of capabilities and design does she need in her wearable device? As Peruvemba notes, “For wearable devices in the consumer market to take off, designers need to create human-centric rather than techno-centric designs.”

A great place to find these future technologies will be at Display Week 2016. I’m hoping to do a little bit of window shopping, test-drive a few wearable devices, and maybe find a solution that offers the seamless integration and capabilities I desire…even if that means having to wait a while for it to hit the market. If, as Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter has said, “art inspires technology and technology inspires art,” then, hopefully, I won’t have too long a wait.

 

 

Social Media: Nuisance Turned Nuance

22 Jan

 

 

social media 4By Meagan Hardcastle

Beyond just the marketing and advertising necessity that social media has become, there is much more to be valued in these tools than brands realize. Now etched into our daily lives, social media is fundamental.

Social media is vital to a company’s brand. Is your company fully optimizing social media platforms? Your audience is likely on more than one platform.  Are you using the right ones? They are not all created equal. Before we go any further, let’s take a brief overview of the main social media platforms you might need:

  • Facebook: A good place to showcase your company culture
  • Twitter: No essays allowed, 140 characters ONLY, to establish a dialogue with followers
  • LinkedIn: A professional platform for strong educational content
  • YouTube: Rich video content perfect for sharing
  • Instagram: Photos and filters required
  • Snapchat: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.

These platforms just scratch the surface. Having become so integrated into consumers’ lives, social media has created online communities wherein customers are now brand ambassadors. The first point of contact a company has with a customer may well be through a social media profile, but not his or her own. Rather, a user may see that so-and-so from Philosophy class liked such-and-such company’s Facebook page and be persuaded to take a look. With this in mind, all brands are social. A company’s social presence affects more than sales, but additionally recruiting and brand power.

While millennials are considered the most savvy, and prolific, users of social media, the fastest-growing demographic is the 45-54 age bracket, according to Hootsuite.  The lesson here is that nearly all audiences can be reached through social media. Companies should not take that responsibility lightly.

Moving into the New Year is a great time to kick-off a social media resolution ─ or rather, revolution. Yes, it’s time to revolutionize your social media strategy. Because social media is constantly evolving, it can be challenging for even the savviest users to keep up and employ platforms effectively. Maybe you’re new to the whole social media realm (if you made that profile on Twitter but haven’t posted since, not to worry, it’s still there). Now’s the time to go to town posting, growing your brand image and building awareness. You can dive right in, as there are lots of tools, webinars, and even millennials to guide you along the way.

So, what’s happening in social media for 2016?

  • Content is king! That comes as no surprise, I hope. Rich content, such as short compelling videos, captures the most attention. According to a recent Fortune article, Facebook users are logging 8 billion video views per day. And now, with Facebook’s new scrolling feature that plays a video automatically when you scroll past it, the video is even more likely to be viewed.
  • While we are on the topic of video, let’s talk LIVE broadcast. I like to refer to it as “capturing the now”—those can’t-miss moments from trade shows, events, and conferences. This is the polar opposite of taking a video and posting it later. Platforms such as Periscope, owned by Twitter, allow you to broadcast live, and the video only lasts for 24 hours. Already at 10 million users, this trend reflects the desire to have vivid, real-time experiences at our fingertips. Currently in beta-testing is Facebook Live, which we will likely see grow in 2016.
  • Social media training is a must. It’s important that everyone on your staff have an understanding of and at least a baseline appreciation for social media. The Harvard Business Review found that only 12% of those using social media are using these platforms effectively. Companies need social media training to use time and resources efficiently.
  • Publishing is changing as social media platforms adopt all-in-one functionalities. Once again, Facebook has found a way to keep users in-app for as long as possible with its Instant Articles. Keeping mobility and competitive advantage in mind, companies may need to adapt to these new approaches to publicize press releases beyond a mere link.
  • Optimize your influencers. Remember my earlier observation that a new customer will likely make contact with your brand through someone else? This is especially true when it comes to influencers. The power of who we trust, even on social media, can help your company reach a new audience and even change existing opinions about your brand.

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Those that adapt to the constantly evolving social media environment have the most to gain. Familiarize yourself with the platforms and dive in, but make sure you’ve done your research. In 2014, DiGiorno Pizza mistakenly used the hashtag #WhyIStayed, originally created for survivors of domestic violence, resulting in a negative brand image.  On that note, it’s best to avoid misusing trending hashtags just to promote a post, as furniture retailer Habitat  experienced in 2009. Use trending hastags that are relevant to what you are posting. Stay on top of key trends so that you can work them into your posts – by next year, we might be discussing how virtual reality took over 2016. But most of all, never forget that, ultimately, social media is like any other aspect of your communications strategy – quality content is the key to success.

For crying out loud, Santa—can we please get a little peace on Earth?

17 Dec

By Diane Hayward

As if the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t have enough on its plate—not posting a profit since 2006 and all—Santa appears to be piling on by allowing children to text and email him instead of writing letters and mailing them to the North Pole the old-fashioned way.

At least, that is what Seattle-based text messaging provider Zipwhip would like your kids to believe. By simply dialing Santa’s toll free number, 844-YO-SANTA, children and their parents can now text their Christmas wish lists to Santa and communicate with him directly while he simultaneously checks his Naughty or Nice List.  The underlying goal of this creative campaign—and there is always a goal— is to draw your attention to Zipwhip’s cloud powered web app that allows you to text from an existing landline or toll-free number.

Being a student of PR throughout my 20+ years in the profession, I was intrigued when I stumbled across the company’s unconventional press release about the campaign, so I decided to give it a go.  I was curious about whether they could pull this gimmick off—being a spokesperson is always challenging, but living up to the expectations of being Santa is a whole different matter. The opportunity to misspeak and go down rat holes is immense and the pressure to meet the varying expectations of the Man in Red is lofty, to say the least. Throw in that texting doesn’t allow for critical nonverbal cues or tone of voice that could surely help clarify Santa’s message and lend credibility to his character, and it gets more interesting.

For my first communication to Santa in years, I kept my opening simple — “Hello Santa” — and received a text back from “him” fairly quickly.

“Ho Ho Ho! Thanks for texting Santa.  I got your text!” It was hard to ignore the repetition, but I quickly became distracted by a link to this video where Santa delivers a more comprehensive message .

 

A point I must make about the video is that Zipwhip’s Santa is a great candidate for some on-camera spokesperson training.  Eye contact and sincerity with the audience is critical in this format if you want to establish trust—his shifty glances throughout his speech can create distrust and detract from his credibility.

From Santa’s initial text response and video, he did not initiate any further conversation, but he did answer my questions when I sent them.  That meant he never asked about my Christmas wishes—which I consider to be a critical part of any conversation with Santa—so I asked if he wanted to know.  That’s when I got the kick in the head response, “but we are all very busy,” along with the link to the same video again.

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Suddenly, I had a much better understanding of what Ralphie was dealing with in A Christmas Story.

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I think Zipwhip’s Santa figured that out because I got a follow-up text:

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So with that opportunity, I asked Santa for Peace on Earth. I knew it was a tall order, but aside from that being my number one request, I was really curious about how they would respond to the topic.  See for yourself:

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“Don’t know if I can swing it.” Really?  By now, the social media team realized I was not a child.  I appreciate their efforts to be playful, and credit goes to them for personalizing their response to me.  But look, if you are going to say you are Santa, then stay in character—just ask Disney what it thinks about that topic.  “That’s a beautiful wish” is a great beginning, but surely they could draw on something that is realistic, but that breeds more hope, such as,“I would like the same thing, but I can’t give you that on my own. Peace starts with each of us—if we all do our part maybe we can make that happen”? Even Mother Teresa’s famous quote could be brought in for inspiration: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

How Do Others Respond to the Question?

As it turns out, texting the commercial Zipwhip Santa isn’t the only way to talk to Kris Kringle electronically.  The North Pole Times and emailsanta.com both offer responses from Santa!  I’ve got to tilt my Santa cap to Alan Kerr, founder of emailsanta.com.  The site, which he started in 1997 after a Canadian postal strike prevented his niece and nephew from mailing their letters, allows people to instantly communicate their wishes to Santa and receive an immediate, intelligent and personalized reply from the jolly old elf himself.

I don’t know how he pulls it off, but I decided to give it a spin and within minutes I had a video from Santa that was somewhat relevant to the topics in the email I sent—particularly my age.  The kicker was the letter I received shortly afterwards.  Not only did Santa do a better job of addressing my wish for Peace on Earth, he also talked at length about my request for a light saber and Disney Mal doll, even going so far as to speak to me in the Yoda vernacular about the light saber. It was the kind of response that makes a kid’s day—or, in my case, makes the day of an adult whose tender middle age caused Santa to refer to me as “chronologically challenged” and as an “older kid” said with finger quotes in his video.

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To Santa or Not to Santa

In the end, I’ve got to give credit to the good people of Zipwhip for stepping out of the box and embarking on a marketing campaign that hit some positive marks—it was creative and timely, and it allowed the company to engage with potential customers.  My one experience with texting the Zipwhip Santa does not necessarily replicate others’ experiences, nor does it define the success or failure of the company’s effort.

That said, the takeaway observation still holds: Santa is about heart, whether you believe in him or not.  A company mimicking him with a primary goal to promote a product will likely not provide the same quality as a guy who started answering letters to make kids happy.  The company looking to profit risks being associated with insincerity and mediocrity.  PR is an amplifier to outside audiences, so take care to be clear about corporate values, objectives and strategies before amplifying them.

That is all this “older elf” (finger quotes) has to say for today. Peace to all.

 

 

Tech Trends to be Thankful For

18 Nov

iot

By MCA Public Relations

What technology are you thankful for? Whether you are a digital native or digital immigrant, technology is now and will continue to be a part of our daily lives. Increasingly intertwined into all aspects of life, technology has expanded into industries we never thought possible. Amongst our team, the list of varying technologies we’ve encountered grew and grew. While we may not be in direct contact with 3D printing technologies, we can still admire the advancements it provides. Meanwhile, smart “fill in the blank” is an ever-growing category of technology. It may be challenging to pick just one, but what technology best streamlines our busy lives or provides a solution to a once challenging task? Here are a few tech trends MCA is thankful for these days!

Angie: Mobile Computing
Mobile computing is the technology that I am most grateful for.  Whether using my smart phone or laptop, the time savings factor is incredibly valuable and convenient. Before mobile computing, I would have to go home or to the office to edit documents, do research or simply forward a file. Today, I can stay as connected as I want to be and remain extremely efficient and informed. I’m not always connected to the internet, but when I do, I use mobile computing.  Stay ‘thankful’ my friends.

Brian: The Internet of Things
I hate to shop!  I hate going into new stores.  I can never find what I want in a new store—sometimes, even stores I’ve been too a million times.  I wander the aisles looking.  I also hate getting store coupons in the mail.  I never remember to bring the right coupon to the right store.  This is why I prefer to shop online.  I always find what I want with a couple of search terms and whatever points or coupons I’ve earned are displayed for me on the check out screen. But sometimes I just can’t wait for stuff to get shipped to me.  So I have to go to a brick and mortar store and lumber around the aisles with the other dinosaurs!  BUT WAIT.  GOOD NEWS!!  The new internets of things (IoT) technologies are bringing the online shopping experience to the Jurassic Age of brick and mortar retailing.  LED lighting in the ceiling of retail chains can now send information to my mobile phone through blue tooth or visible light communication (VLC) that will direct me to the location of the products I’m looking for and deliver in-store coupons directly to my phone.  Prototype systems are currently being tested by chains such as Target and Carrefour.  So this year, I’m thankful that IoT and LED technologies are delivering me from aimlessly wandering store aisles as though I were among the walking dead.

Geena: Fitness Trackers
I have found that fitness trackers have some of the coolest features in wearable technology. My Fitbit has made me more conscientious about my health and has truly changed my habits for the better. As an accessory, it has fit seamlessly into my life and it feels personalized for me. Fitness trackers are also fun! Being able to create challenges for myself and competing with others to meet my goals makes this tech trend a good fit for me.

Lisa: Smart Home Technology
In my home, we have tended to be early adopters of new technologies that allow us to do more in “smart” ways. While my engineer husband’s recent conversion of our home lighting to LEDs controlled through Samsung’s SmartThings hub has been a bit like living in an episode of “Home Improvement” (thankfully, nothing blew up), the result is quite cool. I was fully won over when I walked into the dark kitchen with arms full of groceries, and the presence sensors solicitously turned on the lights. Since we also have a Nest Thermostat and Nest Cams installed, we can now use our smart phones to control lighting and temperature, as well as keep an eye on our daughter, our dogs and the front porch (thus ensuring no holiday packages are filched by UPS truck followers).

Marie: App-Based Trackers
The recent tech trend I am excited to take part in is app-based trackers.  Having recently worked with French based company, Wistiki, on the latest developments in app-based trackers, I am eager to integrate these products into my own life. Our English mastiff is an important part of our family, it is comforting knowing that I can place one of these trackers on him and find him if he gets lost…although, being 200 pounds, he’s not too hard to spot. But it doesn’t stop there! You can use these products to help you find your keys, wallet and other personal items. What’s really cool about Wistiki’s product line is that they teamed with legendary designer Philippe Starck to unify function with design. I can’t wait for these new products to hit the market in 2016.

Meagan: Mobile Payment
Being a part of such an on-the-go generation, mobile payment has streamlined the once tedious process of splitting the check. I enjoy going out to dinner with friends and easily paying for my meal. One person puts the bill on their card, we each pay for our portion of the check, and we end the evening without any awkwardness or without upsetting our waiter as many restaurants will only split the check between a certain number of cards. Mobile payment has provided an efficient and fee-free payment process. Services like Venmo or Square Cash allow transactions to happen quickly and efficiently.

The list of technologies that make our lives just a bit easier is endless. Ultimately, we are most thankful that these technologies keep us connected to our family and friends. From everyone at MCA, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s so spooky about IoT?

23 Oct

IoT and secuirty

By Meagan Hardcastle

It’s a cold, dark night. Shrouded in a thick, heavy fog, the moon has an otherworldly glow. Suddenly, you see a light flickering outside the window, and you creep toward it for a closer look…Quick, lock the door! It’s a hacker!

Okay, so maybe it’s not actually that spooky or dramatic, but staying secure in this connected world is certainly something to worry about. The “Internet-of-Things,” or as it’s commonly referred to, the IOT – is expanding at a rapid rate. According to Fortune, “The Internet of Things is the next frontier in technology.” Our world has become increasingly connected. We program our devices to make our lives easier, keeping us connected to our cars, computers, and our homes.

So, what’s so spooky about the IoT? As with any new technology, it represents a mix of convenience and risk. It’s convenient to control all things from one central location, but the risk? The risks of the IoT are still uncertain. The newest trend in technology brings about a heightened sense of control and “eyes everywhere” – type monitoring capabilities. It’s convenient to be able to monitor our homes, children and belongings from our devices, but the risk is that others can look along with us. It’s not that excitement for the IoT is clouding our security awareness; but it’s a dimly lit path that no one’s traveled down before. The spooky side of the IoT is that nobody has figured out how to secure it.

“The Internet of Things – It’s both amazing and frightening when you think about it,” says Melisa Bleasdale, industry expert and security technologist, “Being able to unlock doors and set your house alarm with your phone is pretty magic, but knowing that if they wanted to, hackers can and will gain access also, is pretty dark. All companies working in the IoT space should be spending as much time on security as they are on ease-of-use.”

Security awareness needs to deepen as we change the way we do business, and should be present at the early stages of designing a device. Without that, we could end up with a haunted forest of new devices lacking robust security capabilities. It’s scary to think about the backtracking needed to secure untraditionally connected devices. Security news recently unveiled concerns about a Jeep Cherokee cyber-attack , that has led car companies to take on-board computer security threats seriously. Although the Jeep breach was a controlled experiment, hackers aren’t usually the good guys ready to help resolve a company’s issues.

According to The Guardian, there are currently an estimated 4.5 billion connected things – including things that go bump in the night and things that make your skin crawl. As the popularity of IoT increases, so do our security vulnerabilities. Companies need to start bridging the gap before hackers take advantage. It’s a daunting challenge. Think of security as the “boogie man” of IoT. The “boogie man” is often the mythical tactic to lead bad children into good behavior, so if security is the “boogie man” of IoT we hope it will lead companies into good security practices.

So who is left responsible for establishing the IoT security practices? While cyber-attacks leave companies with a call to action, security is currently left up to the consumer. Much like having your parent check the safety of your trick-or-treat candy before indulging, Bleasdale gives us some tips before we dig into the the world of IoT:

Be cautious about which devices you purchase, what you connect them to, and the kinds of information you are making available through that interconnectedness. Practice common sense.

Opt in. Register your devices, request update notifications, read the forums and stay up to date on the latest IoT security news. Know what’s being said about the devices that you own.

Own your own security. Until companies develop security measures spanning the IoT, you have to take responsibility for the privacy and security of your information.

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