Category Archives: Communication Technology

Please rate your last straw?

Loads of online surveys are destroying your engagement measurements.

In just the last two weeks, I’ve received 17 marketing surveys through email and/or text messages. More than one a day from companies large and small— my electric utility, a golf course, my insurance company, multiple online vendors, a coffeeshop, SaaS providers, etc. It’s like they are being piled on until I finally buckle under the load. Two in particular became my last straws. 

The first was from my dentist. She’s a fabulous dentist. An accomplished DMD, educator, former head of our state’s dental association. The perfect dentist. Except, she recently purchased a marketing package that facilitates (promotes) the use of digital surveys. They go out whenever you make, change or go to an appointment.

The second straw was from a roadside vendor who sells raw, local, and wild honey. So now the raw honey dude, selling off his truck’s tailgate, is push-marketing in my phone with SMS surveys? 

Enough, already!

Just because you can, should you?

This question should be the first hurdle any digital communication feature needs to clear before adoption. There are countless companies inventing new ways to push, pull, track, fence, compile and report endless streams of user/consumer/employee data. 

With more and more digital solutions coming online every year, we must think critically about these technologies. How are they received and perceived by the actual humans engaging with them? And how does this communication product/feature help us achieve our goals?

Today’s survey explosion is facilitated by platforms like Shopify, Facebook and Workday. What used to be a discrete function of a company like Survey Monkey, has been integrated into most major social media, online sales and human capital management platforms. These tools make creating and distributing surveys easy. Technically easy, that is. Creating and conducting surveys that yield valuable data still requires strategic thinking and implementation. 

Take my two surveys as examples. Does my dentist think I’m going to be more loyal or get more “dental care” because she asks about my wait or if the office is “nicely appointed?” The office is comfy, fully staffed and I never have to wait more than five minutes. She knows these answers before she asks them. She likely believes she’s increasing appreciation between her office and me. When, in fact, she is annoying me. 

What about the honey dude? He definitely prefers cash, but begrudgingly takes credit cards with a swiping device on his phone. His survey is likely generated by the credit card vendor, for their own purposes. There wasn’t a single question about the honeycomb/honey ratio (the only important question) or the wait times at the tailgate. I doubt he even reads the survey results.

Why are these two sending a survey after every interaction? Just because they can.   

Combatting Survey Fatigue

Unlike the honey dude, our clients create employee engagement surveys that are both important and well thought out. Unfortunately, empty marketing surveys are diluting the effectiveness of these important information-gathering tools.

When employee surveys suffer from reduced participation, disengaged responses and false data points, the culprit is likely survey fatigue rather than the quality of the survey architecture.


All effective communication adapts to the environment. To be heard in a loud room, you raise your voice or lean in closer. Signs on 70 mph roads need to be larger than those on 30 mph roads. And surveys conducted in an environment overrun with surveys need special attention to resonate.

You can elevate your engagement surveys in the minds of your employees, even when they are barraged with useless surveys.

Limit the frequency of your engagement surveys.  

An annual survey can be framed as highly important to the direction of the company. Quarterly surveys monitor employee attitudes and progress toward goals. Monthly surveys are not typically effective. It is very hard to institute meaningful change on a month-to-month basis and you dilute participation. 

Acknowledge survey fatigue.

Establish a limited survey schedule and let employees know that schedule in advance. Frame your surveys as important to the direction of the company. Let employees know that you are aware of the potential for survey fatigue and that you will not waste their time on activities that are not important. Employees are the only source for certain feedback. Tell them why they’re important and they’ll participate.

Make your survey relevant.

Surveys not only gather data they also communicate your organization’s values and business interests. Be certain your survey isn’t merely an exercise in polling employees. Make it a thoughtful process, transmitting important information between management and your workforce.

Employees want to be relevant to their company. Show them how their survey responses inform decision. Take the time to promote engagement surveys as vital to the ongoing success of your organization and employees will understand that these surveys aren’t the same as the throw-away versions they experience every day. 

Let’s Connect

If you want help designing and implementing employee engagement campaigns, we can help. We’d love to hear from you. 

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End of Another Era

Adobe Flash Player is officially dead.

Press Play

R.I.P.

Adobe has finally pulled the plug on its Flash Player. The once-amazing and ubiquitous plug-in had become problematic in many ways—buggy, open to cyberattacks and lacking compatibility. Open technologies like HTML5 offer audio and video players that are vastly more secure, work better and are more stable. The plug-in player that built YouTube had simply outlived its usefulness. 

How to uninstall Flash.

Adobe has provided uninstall instructions for both Windows and Mac users. This is what you do:

  1. Download an uninstaller application for Flash Player. (Each operating system has its own uninstaller; Mac users need to be careful to match the uninstaller to the exact OS version you’re using.)
  2. Run the uninstaller. (This includes closing all programs and browsers that use Flash.)
  3. Verify that the uninstallation was successful by restarting your computer and checking the status of Flash Player on your computer from the Adobe website.

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Ban TikTok?

Should employers be concerned about data security?

Is TikTok an amazingly popular (especially with teens) video-sharing app? Or is TikTok a serious threat to personal, corporate and national security? The answer appears to be “Yes!” 

TikTok Boom

TikTok’s growth has been explosive. It’s been the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store since 2018. TikTok is reported to have been downloaded over two billion times (175 million in the U.S.), and to have 800 million monthly active users, from over 150 countries. Users are young, with more than 65% being 34 or younger. And they spend a lot of time on the app, averaging 52 minutes a day on TikTok, with teens spending 80 minutes. This activity has reportedly produced $3 billion in profits last year. This app is no slouch. It’s fun. It’s growing. And its user demographics are a marketer’s nirvana.

TikTok Bust

Despite profound success, TikTok’s future is in serious question. TikTok’s growth story is being overshadowed by controversy. Concerns over user data security and international espionage are at the heart of a snowballing crisis for the Chinese-owned app. Unlike with other outcries over social media/technology privacy issues, these controversies aren’t merely rumors. They’re very serious allegations with matching consequences.

The types of actions governments and corporations have taken against TikTok are really unprecedented. Here’s a sample:

  • 2019: Federal Trade Commission fines ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) for violating online child protection laws.
  • 2019: United Kingdom opens an investigation into TikTok data protection for children.
  • 2019: India places provisional ban on TikTok for issues around pornography and child protections.
  • 2019: A large class-action law suit was filed in California, claiming TikTok illegally transferred personal data of U.S. citizens to China.
  • 2020: India permanently bans TikTok, citing security concerns around Chinese government spying. 
  • 2020: The United States Military bans TikTok from all government-issued phones.
  • 2020: Amazon accidentally releases an internal employee memo asking all employees to delete TikTok from company phones.
  • 2020: Wells Fargo directs employees to remove TikTok from company phones.

So, what is the problem with TikTok? Why are these, and other organizations, so concerned about the app’s access to data. There seem to be two primary areas of concern. The first is personal privacy and illegal consumer data collection. The second is corporate and national espionage—spying done through TikTok on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Data Syphoning

It’s widely understood that mobile devices collect immense amounts of data from user actions. They track your web browsing, app usage, driving, spending, steps, sleeping, etc.  That TikTok tracks user data isn’t controversial. The problem is what data the app tracks, how it tracks it, and what it does with the data.

Not everything is publicly known about TikTok and what it’s doing. However, it is important to recognize that TikTok is a rebranded version of the Chinese app Douyin. Because it operates behind the Chinese Firewall, Douyin was developed using a very different set of priorities, ethics and protections than apps developed in the U.S. and other liberal democracies. The Chinese people are restricted and censored in ways that are illegal here. Supposedly, TikTok runs on a separate set of servers than Douyin to enable these differences. Yet, many believe the app retains most of Douyin’s “China-market” capabilities.

There are many ways a downloaded app, like TikTok, could surreptitiously collect sensitive data from a phone without users being aware. For example, Apple flagged TikTok for copying data from user’s clipboards. Also, an app developer recently reversed engineered TikTok and found that the app has the ability to intercept and open zip files and perform other functions that should not be part of a mobile app. TikTok might also be able to collect very sensitive data, like fingerprint markers. TikTok just raises a lot of red flags for consumers.

“There’s a reason governments are banning it. Don’t use the app. Don’t let your children use it. Tell your friends to stop using it. It offers you nothing but a quick source of entertainment that you can get elsewhere without handing your data over to the Chinese government. You are directly putting yourself and those on your network (work and home) at risk.” 

Bangoral

A Trojan Horse

It’s not only user data that’s at risk. Large corporations and governments are concerned with CCP corporate and military espionage. TikTok is only one example of a concerted international curtailment of Chinese technology companies. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the U.S. is considering a ban on TikTok. Australia, Japan and other nations have suggested that they also might join India in banning TikTok.

This is part of a greater effort against Chinese technology. Companies like Huawei are already excluded from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan. The core issue is that many, if not all, Chinese tech companies are controlled to some degree by the Chinese military.  

Considering prior action and the strained relationship between the U.S and the CCP, it should not come as a surprise if the U.S. bans TikTok in the coming weeks and months. 

Protect Your Data

In my opinion, when there’s this much smoke, there’s fire. My response to what’s happening with TikTok is to err on the side of caution. I recommend removing TikTok from your personal phone, or any connected device that also has access to any important data. I recommend parents make this decision for their children. I also recommend any employer whose employees access any company data have employees remove TikTok from that device. 

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Signal and Noise

Blackout Tuesday taught us something about Instagram.

During the BlackLivesMatter “Blackout Tuesday” protests last week, many of us saw the following admonition in our various social feeds and in the comment section of Instagram posts:

Unintended Consequences

Why did these most earnest of social justice warriors want us to stop using #blacklivesmatter in our posts? Wasn’t solidarity and the spread of a movement the whole idea? 

The Signal

When these concerned organizers saw their own feeds become clogged with one blacked-out image after another, they realized that their messaging was lost in a sea of black. Organizers, who ironically tried to police Blackout Tuesday, were being frustrated by both the nature of social participation and how Instagram works. 

Instead of letting the protest form organically, these organizers wanted to disseminate specific messages and information using Instagram. To them, the critical thing was the signal. By focusing on their messaging, they missed the beauty of the noise. They began tamping down the participation they had encouraged. The “don’t use #blacklivesmatter” scolds started trending and became one of the predominate messages of the day. I think the simple blacked-out screen shot was more artful and positively impactful.

Blackout Tuesday

The Noise 

What the organizers perceived as noise was, in fact, the most important thing—participation. Blackout Tuesday was a success because it got millions of people to express themselves on behalf of an issue when they  might otherwise have stayed silent.  

When we participle in any social media campaign, we incrementally move from being spectators to stakeholders. This shift is gold to companies who spend millions on influencer marketing, interactive media and direct response advertising. Converting a passive consumer to a co-creator for any brand is a major step in creating lasting brand loyalty. 

No individual post listing real injustices, “important” Netflix docs, or local meet-up times is as important to the success of the movement as having millions of people do something, even something as seemingly insignificant as posting a black screenshot. Each of those little blacked-out posts represents buy in from a fellow citizen and voter. Marketing gold.   

The Platform 

Why wasn’t Instagram effective for disseminating information in the way conceived by Blackout Tuesday organizers? The easy answer is always the algorithm; that mysterious artificial intelligence that determines who, what, when and where a post is displayed on Instagram or any social media platform.

The algorithm is easy to blame, but hard to understand. Actually, it’s impossible to understand because it’s always changing. First, the algorithm’s output is always changing due to exigent conditions on the platform—like millions of black screen shots using #blacklivesmatter. And secondly, social media platforms are constantly tweaking their algorithms to make the user experience better and to increase ad revenue.

Probably the easiest way to understand why the algorithm is a necessary evil is to consider your own social media feed. First, look at the size of the feed space. Depending on your device (Instagram is a mobile phone app), you’ll see one or two posts at once. Interaction is limited to that space and by how much time you spend scrolling and interacting with each post. 

Let’s say you follow 500 people, brands and hashtags. If half of those post every day, it will take some time to get through all of those posts and stories, especially when you factor in the fact that the rate of ads in your feed might be 1:3 in prime viewing times. So, how many of those 250 posts do you actually interact with every day? 

You may think your posts reach all of your followers. They don’t. If you don’t interact much with your followers, the algorithm pushes your post down the queue, behind that follower’s more relevant interactions and behind paid content. And as time goes by, your post becomes less relevant. Even when you make it into your follower’s feed, if they don’t look at your post in a timely manner, it slips further and further down their feed. 

Consider the millions of users and companies vying for space in your feed and you’ll get a picture of how ineffective Instagram is at timely messaging. Instagram is better for branding and low-touch interaction with user-generated content. Other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, can be more effective dissemination tools due to certain affordances like groups, direct messaging and content structure. But they also are limited by algorithmic control over the vast torrent of content generated each second. 

Complementary Media

Many try to use social media as a broadcast medium without recognizing how the media shapes the message. Consider the following simple diagram explaining user relationships to the messages via different media. For the user, social media is not like watching a single television channel, or connecting to a website. It’s like having 500 channels streaming in all at once. 

Social Media overloads the user.

Social media is a complementary media. The most effective strategy for social media–based information dissemination is to use social media to draw users to an information rich website. There, users can engage with your messages and information and action strategies. They can also up their commitment by signing up for future email, texts and other vital updates from your organization. 

As in all communication, the media matters. Understanding the limits of social media will help you determine how it fits into your quiver of options. While I can help with ways to think about and use social media, I can’t help turn it into something it’s not. For that, you’ll need to sign up for my $5,000 a month newsletter. LOL

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