Public Relations in the age of the Internet of Things
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree program several 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 Disney Channel classic movie, Smart House – refrigerators that could order eggs and milk for us when we run 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, and really not all that relevant – what would I ever need a texting plant for, and why would I ever need to think about that in my career?
College me was naïve.
Not even a decade after that class, the Internet of Things (IoT) is here. I don’t currently have a plant that tweets at me, but my dad does have the ability to unlock his front door remotely from his phone. I wear a FitBit on my wrist every day that communicates with three separate apps on my phone andprovides information my doctor has me tracking as part of my health plan. The Philae Rover, currently on comet 67P, is able to tweet from space to its handlers on Earth about its activities. And – I have, and continue to think about how IoT plays into my career. The public relations field will be changed in clientele, crisis management, and engagement.
As an agency in the Silicon Forest, A.wordsmith has the opportunity to work with an interesting mix of tech clients. Startups and technology organizations will likely continue to come here, and 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 continue to grow and change. More IoT-capable devices mean more avenues connect with your audience. PR agencies will likely see a demand for tech knowledge and experience grow no matter what industries they specialize in.
With any new technology, one of the first things someone will figure out how to do is hack into it. At DEFCON 23 in Las Vegas last year, the Internet of Things Village presented a particularly scary talk on hacking into IoT baby monitors and retrieving sound clips and videos from the cloud storage the devices upload to. More connectivity means more avenues to hack into and more potential crises for our clients. Many businesses incorrectly believe they don’t have any information worth hacking, but given society’s habit of using the same password for everything, there’s potential for a hacker to access multiple consumer accounts based on passwords they gather at a single business. As part of a crisis management program, public relations pros need to stress the importance of security to their clients in addition to planning for a strategic response in the event of an attack.
We already know that consumers hate being sold to on social media, and this will only increase as the IoT grows. They won’t want 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 platforms are a conversation, not a brand megaphone, and consumers increasingly expect quick, genuine response from brands they reach out to. If we’re going to send a message to them via Twitter on their smart watch, it better be worth their time.
Though technology and security issues can sometimes induce fear, this is a very exciting time to work in PR. IoT offers plenty of opportunity to flex your creative side and use your imagination. Though some argue technology has distanced us (and there are discussions to be had here), it has also connected us to people around the globe more than ever before. The future of tech communications is bright – and my not-so-green thumb could probably use a tweeting plant.