Recently, I was drawn to a story about Google’s antitrust lawsuit. Earlier this month, a trial began that accused Google of monopolising internet search engines, eliminating the ability of rivals to compete. To put it simply, the US Justice Department has accused Google of abusing its power as the most popular search engine – this was done by making deals with wireless carriers to ensure its search engine is the exclusive or dominant option on the devices of millions of consumers.
With search engine optimisation (SEO) serving as a key method for marketing and communications professionals to reach their audiences, this news made me wonder – how much power do search engines actually wield to control how we think about certain organisations and products? And, are there any other ways that communications professionals can hope to compete with companies that simply have deeper pockets?
Are search engines controlling how we think?
There is evidence from as far back as 2015 indicating that search engines have the power to subtly control thinking and behaviour – this is known as the search engine manipulation effect. Internet search rankings have a significant impact on choices, not only on the products we buy but also the decisions we make. This is because users tend to trust products and organisations that are ranked higher on Google than those that they need to scroll further down on the results page to view. Therefore, companies that have larger budgets to dedicate towards boosting their ranking naturally come out on top in the race for website traffic, and therefore the attention of consumers.
The state of SEO for comms professionals
SEO has become the bread and butter for comms professionals as they seek to boost the reputation of their brand, creating a larger target audience by positioning their company’s website at the top of search engine rankings through a variety of methods. In recent years, it has become one of the most important tools for brand awareness, as it ensures that the right people are being driven towards the products and services that are being offered.
In light of the Google antitrust lawsuit, communications professionals might begin to wonder if this will impact them in the coming years. The good news is, many of the techniques involved in SEO actually contribute to building a strong reputation over time – and this will hold true no matter what the future holds for search engines like Google or Bing.
SEO actually has a critical role to play in reputation management. In order to boost rankings, organisations need to ensure the content on their website is optimised so that it reflects key themes that their target audience is looking for – incorporating SEO keywords into the content of the website itself. This could be in written blogs, headers, internal links and URLS. This is common practice for SEO professionals – tailoring your content more closely to what your target audience is searching for can help ensure that those who come across your organisation’s website trust that they will find what they are looking for, and quickly.
The practice of fine-tuning your website’s on-page SEO will not only improve search engine rankings, it also builds confidence in your brand at little cost – and this is only skimming the surface.
Even though it is clear that search engines like Google do hold a vast amount of power in controlling how we perceive certain brands, this does not necessarily mean organisations with the deepest pockets always come out on top. The process of tailoring your website, social media channels and digital footprint to what your audience is searching for will over time have a critical role to play in building and boosting the reputation of your organisation for the long haul.
Interested in hearing more on this topic? Take a look at Firefly’s PR meets SEO: Digital Reputation Management Guide.
Since its big reveal in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has dominated headlines all across the world. It is being touted as a technology with the potential to change our lives – for better, or worse. Across the internet, we’ve seen examples of how the AI-powered language model can complete tasks faster, and in some cases better, than humans. Tasks ranged from writing emails, to composing song lyrics, drafting academic essays and everything in between.
AI that can create new content, also known as generative AI, has faced its share of ethical concerns over the past months. If a chatbot can write articles and generate images in a matter of seconds, what will that mean for the humans who rely on these skills to earn a living? However, it needn’t be all doom and gloom. This technology holds the potentially to enable people to do their jobs better, faster and with greater ease.
In the B2B tech PR and communications industry, there are several ways that generative AI could revolutionise how we work. As an experiment, I asked ChatGPT: ‘’What are the top four ways that generative AI will change the PR and communications industry for the better?’’ This is what it said:
1. Media monitoring and outreach
One key area ChatGPT said it could help comms professionals is in monitoring and analysing media coverage more efficiently. It answered, ‘’Generative AI can quickly scan and categorise articles, tweets, and other social media posts, enabling PR teams to stay on top of the news and respond to emerging trends and issues.’’
The chatbot identified media outreach as another way to support PR teams, assisting them in ‘’identifying relevant journalists and influencers, quickly scanning databases of journalists and their previous articles, enabling PR teams to tailor their pitches to specific reporters and outlets.’’
2. Reputation management
Reputation management is another area of specialisation for PR professionals, which ChatGPT said it could enable them to do with greater ease. It stated, ‘’Generative AI can help PR teams manage their clients’ online reputation by monitoring social media and other online channels for mentions of the brand or key executives. This technology can quickly flag negative comments or reviews and provide insights into sentiment and key topics.’’
3. Crisis management
In a similar vein to the points above, ChatGPT said that its ability to quickly scan and monitor media trends can support comms professionals with managing a crisis. ‘’By monitoring social media and news sources, generative AI can assist PR teams in identifying emerging issues and responding proactively to mitigate damage to the brand’s reputation,’’ it wrote.
4. Content creation
Generative AI also has the ability to support with content creation by ‘’quickly generating press releases, blog posts, and social media updates, freeing up PR teams to focus on higher-level strategy and relationship-building activities.’’
Interestingly, ChatGPT revealed that, on its own, generative AI cannot replace the valuable time and effort communications professionals spend on strategy, planning, pitching and relationship building. Additionally, while it can create content quickly, the content is not necessarily better in quality than what would be produced by an experienced comms professional.
This technology has the potential to enable teams to do their jobs faster and more effectively by drawing on data that already exists to help reduce manual processes. It’s clear that there is still much more on the horizon for generative AI and how it will change daily operations. For now, it appears that it will be an innovative way to help teams go above and beyond for clients, allowing them to focus the majority of their time on the aspects of our jobs that are most valuable – devising new and creative campaigns, as well as producing original, thought-provoking content that makes an impact.
The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this past month, where global leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the ongoing threats associated with the climate crisis. While progress was made in the form of a new five-year work programme to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries, the conference faced widespread criticism for failing to do enough to address the crisis. The consensus is clear that innovative new climate technologies, or green tech, will be crucial in the push towards reaching net-zero goals.
Now that COP27 is behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on key discussions surrounding green tech and take a look at what the future could hold.
What is green tech, and where are we now?
This year, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report painted a particularly bleak picture. Due to the lack of progress made, it warned that the earth is set to reach 1.5C above preindustrial temperatures within the next two decades – putting people around the world in immediate danger. This stresses the critical need for ambitious climate action to be taken throughout the global economy. The IPCC named digital technology as a key enabler of energy efficiency to reduce emissions across multiple sectors.
The report placed a spotlight on carbon removal from the atmosphere as a key way to limit further global warming and remove emissions from the air that are hard to eliminate, such as those produced through industrial processes. This can be done through planting trees and soil preservation, but also through green tech solutions, including machines that extract carbon directly from the air. Currently, many of these ‘direct air capture’ solutions are expensive and require a considerable amount of energy to implement.
The report indicated that capturing the required amount of carbon dioxide from the air through direct air capture machines would consume the amount of energy equivalent to half the world’s electricity production. Thus, it’s clear that there is still more work to be done to figure out the green tech solutions needed to meet climate targets amid the ongoing energy crisis.
The role of artificial intelligence in green tech
A new programme recently announced by the UK government has shone a light on other ways that technology can play a role in reducing carbon emissions – in this case, artificial intelligence.
The AI for Decarbonisation Programme is part of the UK’s broader Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which is set to increase AI market growth in the UK, reduce the cost of energy, and increase the consideration of ethics, bias and equity in AI technologies within decarbonisation applications. The primary goal of the programme is to fund projects where AI is being used to accelerate the UK’s renewable energy transition and meet net-zero targets.
As an example of how businesses are using AI to meet climate goals, we can look to Rolls-Royce, that has used data analytics and AI to improve sustainability of aircraft engines. Through creating digital twins of its engines, the company has been able collect real-time data from planes in flight to model performance in the cloud, reducing unnecessary maintenance and improving the sustainability of engines. Energy giant Shell has also made use of data to track and cut greenhouse gas emissions – this is done through tracking large volumes of data and using that knowledge to optimise existing processes.
These applications of AI and data to meet sustainability goals are evidence that there are many roles that technology can play in the fight against climate change, and we are currently just at the tip of the iceberg. As the alarm continues to sound on the escalating crisis, the possibilities are endless for what could be achieved with the right resources in place. And with increasing pressure on governments and businesses to meet their targets, we can only hope that innovation in the sector will continue to grow rapidly before time runs out.
Some say that January feels like the ‘longest’ month of the year – and while that might not technically be true, it certainly went by in a blur. Now that February is done, we’ve had time to get in the swing of things and plan for the year ahead. People are shifting their focus away from the year that was, and thinking – what comes next?
The holidays have officially ended, Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and people seem to be looking to escape reality even further – stories about the metaverse, cryptocurrencies and other novel concepts dominated the headlines this month.
For those worried about robots taking over, this might not have been the best month. February was characterised by developments in the Artificial Intelligence space, with scientists in Japan developing a robot child with the ability to convey six facial expressions. Research also revealed that in many cases, AI-created faces appear more trustworthy than the real deal. Humans are not skilled at distinguishing between human faces and fake ones, making it important for safeguards to prevent the circulation of ‘deepfakes’ online.
People can now go on dates in the metaverse, and McDonalds even announced that they plan to open restaurants there by registering trademarks in the virtual space. YouTube also revealed plans for 2022, introducing the idea of verifying NFTs and watching games in the metaverse. Disney appointed an executive to oversee its metaverse strategy, joining other big tech giants as they invest millions in the virtual world.
There was, however, some worrying news from the metaverse, as experts raised concerns that violence and harassment are rampant, and steps should be taken to ensure that people remain safe when joining the virtual world. As Meta pivoted its strategy to the metaverse, the team hit a snag at the beginning of the month, with reports that they considered shutting down Facebook and Instagram in Europe if unable to process data from European users on US-based servers.
The cryptoverse sparked conversation, as investors set their sights on ‘’altcoins’’ to power online games and worlds. Bitcoin attempted to reassert its dominance over smaller challengers in the crypto space. Reports indicated that some cryptocurrencies have an enormous carbon footprint and could be damaging to the environment, leading experts to search for eco-friendly methods of engaging in virtual trading.
Gaming news took centre stage this month. Reports from 2021 revealed that the UK video game industry is booming, with M&A investment hitting £1.9bn last year. Wordle took the world by storm, and fans were shocked when the game was purchased by the New York Times, potentially putting the ability to play the game for free in jeopardy. After Microsoft’s purchase of industry-leading gaming company Activision Blizzard last month, Microsoft pledged to play fair as it sought public approval on the $68.7bn deal.
In futuristic health tech news, new technology is being trialled that enables paralysed people to walk again with an implant that mimics the away the spinal cord is activated by the brain. A medical trial being conducted on Australian sheep is also paving the way to help blind people see again through bionic eye technology.
That’s it for February’s tech news roundup. Sign up for our daily Firewire newsletter to get updates on top stories in the world of tech.
During a mere number of years, many of us have the felt the effects which followed on from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been bombarded with constant negative news from the spread of new variants, to reports of impending climate doom and political upheaval. In many ways, the negativity has been almost inescapable. Happy stories have certainly been in short supply, but now that we’re finally starting to see the blue skies shining through, there is no reason to repeat this trend in 2022.
The start of a new year is an opportunity to shift our thinking to that of optimism. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, good news stories have been buried in favour of stories that stoke fear and anxiety. A new term even came to prominence during the pandemic – ‘doomscrolling’ – or the act of continually consuming negative news on social media. Reports have also revealed a steady decline in news interest during this period with many saying they find the constant barrage of negative news repetitive, confusing, and frustrating. Evidence that people prefer to hear good news in the face of such overwhelming information fatigue is mounting.
As communications professionals, we have the power to shift the narrative – both in the stories that we produce and in our own lives. In an industry where we are required to be creative and constantly on the point, harnessing the power of optimism is a requirement to meet our goals as the new year dawns.
Optimism builds resilience
A new year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start. Naturally, the new year also brings on challenges and the need to adapt to changes in the form of new campaigns, new clients, or new colleagues. During this time, it’s important to remain positive and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way – in both our personal and professional lives. In the face of adversity, a positive mindset can work wonders.
We have to be resilient to work in this industry. If something isn’t going quite right, communications professionals need to keep reinventing the wheel and try new things. If a story isn’t landing, or if the days just seem too short to fit in all our tasks, we need to keep adapting and innovating even in stressful situations.
We have to expect that good things are coming our way. Optimism gives you the power to keep forging ahead even in the sea of constant ‘no’ – the ability to recover from failure, learn from it and move forward stronger than before.
Optimism leads to creativity
As we search for opportunity in the adversity, we should look to create new ways to get our voices heard in an industry that is evolving as quickly as the news cycle. It’s been proven that when we think positively, it leads to improved motivation, productivity, and wellbeing.
Communications professionals need to constantly learn about different perspectives, view the world from multiple lenses and speak to our audiences in ways that will engage and inspire them. A positive outlook on the world can be the motivational tool needed to truly invent something new and different that will make a lasting impact.
Optimism inspires those around us
Positivity is infectious. Studies show that optimists are more confident, and often have a more positive mood, higher morale, and better physical health. Setting a positive tone in your workplace environment is critical during chaotic times, because if negativity takes over it can be difficult to roll back.
To start off the new year right, promoting positivity in the workplace is one of the most important things we can do. Take the time to recognise the achievements of others and give praise where it’s due. Establishing optimism at the outset will encourage people to express their ideas confidently and motivate them to get the job done even when time is running short. The new year is also the right time to re-evaluate what it is that we want and how to get there. The confidence boost from a positive work environment may empower people to speak up for what they believe in and ask for what they want.
Making a positive impact on the world starts with the small things – believing the glass is half full and sharing that perspective with others even in tough times. If a culture of optimism is established in our organisations, it will permeate into the work that we do as communications professionals. Even in challenging moments, tapping into the power of optimism will ensure the people around you, and those who consume the content that you produce, are also enabled to see that blue sky.
Autumn is the season for new beginnings. Young people are back at school and parents are returning to the office – making this the ideal time of year to reflect on how we spend our time and what we can do to balance work and life.
As the days get shorter, darker and busier technology has the power to make our lives easier, but also the capacity to make them infinitely more complicated. In our pockets we hold the key to improving our physical and mental health through fitness, meditation and time management apps. On the other hand, smartphones can also damage our mental health through access to social media and ever-present news alerts delivering a brand-new reason to be anxious.
The top tech stories of the month reflect an increased focus on the power of tech to cure societal ills and also to exacerbate them.
Health tech is certainly having its moment. New inventions have the ability to monitor our health in ways that would have been inconceivable in the past. Probably in part due to the pandemic driving an increase in need for virtual health solutions, devices like Fitbit which were initially conceived to track fitness goals are now able to detect everything from skin temperature, stress and oxygen saturation to breathing rate.
Fitbit’s new snore detection feature gives a more holistic view of the user’s health by detecting abnormalities in sleep. Scientists have also devised a T-shirt that monitors the heart rate of the wearer with more accuracy than a chest strap. It’s safe to say that we can expect more health tech innovations on the horizon.
In addition to new technology that can potentially cure our physical woes, stories about the impact of social media on our mental health have dominated the headlines this month – and with good reason.
With the Age Appropriate Design Code coming into effect this month and sending shockwaves through the tech community, a spotlight has been shone on the potentially harmful impact of social media and unregulated internet access on the mental wellbeing of children and young people.
In August, Apple announced plans to begin scanning iCloud to detect photos of child sex abuse. The initiative was widely criticised by child privacy campaigners, which led to Apple indefinitely postponing the launch of the software earlier this month.
After revelations that Facebook knew about Instagram’s negative effects on the mental health of teenagers but did not act, a UK lawmaker, who is scrutinising the new heavily-critiqued Online Safety Bill, called for Facebook to be punished if they withhold evidence that social media channels can harm users.
Some social media companies are taking actions to combat the negative impacts of their platform on users’ mental health. Earlier this month, Twitter began testing a new safety mode to silence abuse and trolling on their platform. TikTok has also begun to roll out a new feature to help users that may be having suicidal thoughts. If users search terms such as ‘suicide’ they will be directed towards mental health support and local resources in their community.
While small, these actions have the power to really impact lives for the better. It’s common knowledge that technology opens the door to endless possibilities for solving physical and mental health issues, while also potentially causing significant harm to our mental health. As we enter the Autumn months, we all have to strike a balance to determine how much, and in what ways, we allow our tech to influence our daily lives.
That’s all for our September tech news roundup. Want to receive daily alerts to the top stories in tech? Sign up to Firewire here.
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