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May 21st, 2022
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Guest post by Jonathon Morgan, CEO at Yonder The Information Age has ushered in a golden era of interconnectivity. Astute observers of this phenomenon are aware that the new reality is both a blessing and a curse. The most creative and innovative brands have been strategic about using the internet as a platform to create community and meaningfully connect with their audience. At the same time, this interconnectivity means that all types of information — true, false, helpful, and harmful — can spread in the blink of an eye. According to a 2021 report by Visual Objects, 67 percent of consumers try to understand a company’s online presence before even considering the brand, further proving the importance of ensuring the most accurate information is being shared across the web. For communications teams, this challenge presents a tremendous opportunity to step up and lead their businesses as the first responders in mitigating brand risk. Communications professionals are on the front lines of protecting brand integrity Communications professionals are typically the first to see when a viral narrative is emerging. Perhaps your brand is suddenly trending, a spokesperson for your company is being targeted online, or your brand is being boycotted, as seen when Coca-Cola held a stance against the Georgia Voter Law earlier this year. The first step is to identify the origin of these online conversations. Because strategic communications teams typically serve horizontally across organizations, they are uniquely positioned to work cross-functionally and coordinate a response in the event of a crisis. However, “crisis” is the keyword here: It may not be worth your time and your company resources to overreact when something about your brand goes viral online. Social intelligence tools can play an unprecedented role here. First and foremost, effective social intelligence tools can determine whether these online conversations are authentic or inauthentic. Modern marketing and communications teams are adopting social intelligence tools in order to know what’s coming day-to-day, make strategic daily decisions that mitigate risk, and stay in control of their brand’s image. Why do viral incidents still catch brands off-guard? Unfortunately, it’s still very common to see these incidents catch communications teams off guard. This is because most teams only have traditional social monitoring and listening tools in place. While these systems tune into keywords, trends, and hashtags on mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they have a huge blindspot: they can’t monitor fringe channels online. Remember when QAnon conspiracy theorists targeted Wayfair, claiming that the company was trafficking children through their website? Although this claim was blatantly false, this faction knew that using a well-known brand as a vehicle to spread disinformation would garner more attention for their conspiracy. And it worked: What started out as a single Tweet quickly turned into mass media headlines and primetime coverage. Online chatter that appears to come out of nowhere can shape a brand’s reputation and bottom line in a matter of days or even hours. Another way that brands get caught off guard is when factions troll their company executives, employees, and other spokespeople. Factions are often able to get an off-the-cuff reaction out of them, further spreading their agenda through this opportunistic publicity. Most brands have executives, board members, and spokespeople that have established some political affiliations, either through communicating their stance on hotbed issues online, through charitable giving, or through their informal relationships with organizations. And who could forget how the “WallStreetBets” subreddit boosted GameStop’s shares in defiance of all market norms, eventually costing hedge funds billions of dollars? The most influential internet factions are experts at tapping into the infrastructure of private forums and chat rooms to rapidly spread their message. How to make your brand less vulnerable to viral stories online With a social intelligence tool, your brand can determine where a viral event was initiated, who started it, and who is amplifying it. Traditional social analytics tools are not capable of answering these critical questions. Once your brand’s marketing or communications team understands the motivations of the online faction responsible for starting a petition, spreading a hashtag, or otherwise sharing some kind of viral message, they can determine what sort of impact their actions online could have on the narrative and your brand’s integrity Based on the faction’s historical track record, your team can assess the likely trajectory of the narrative: Will it spread to channels or audiences that matter to your brand? If the viral narrative is authentic, it’s imperative that you take action. Inauthentic conversations are spread via bots, low-quality accounts, and other methods for making a few voices sound much louder online. But even an inauthentic narrative that’s being manipulated to appear authentic can be a threat to your brand’s reputation and valuation. At times, addressing the narrative can further incite it. Social intelligence platforms can provide your brand with insights that can help decide whether or not to take action by activating your leadership and communication team. For example, Yonder can monitor the source of the information and other non-mainstream channels (think: 4chan, Gab, and Parler) in case the narrative takes a turn that would represent a crisis for your brand. Social intelligence can empower your strategic communications team to completely avoid these incidents. If an incident has already occurred, using these same social intelligence tools can provide data-backed answers and a plan. With these tools, communications teams can provide insights and data that are relevant across many different company functions, including public relations and analytics. Incorporating social intelligence tools into your communications strategy can also monitor emerging narratives around high-level issues that impact your industry, making sure you don’t get caught in the crosshairs of advocacy groups that are instigating petitions and boycotts. It has been clear for some time that managing these communications crises is a high-level process, not a one-time effort. Brands that are doing the work now to preemptively prepare for viral online stories will be less vulnerable than those that try to default to their gut instinct.Jonathon Morgan is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Yonder. Prior to Yonder, he published research about extremist groups manipulating social media with the Brookings Institution, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post, presented at NATO’s Center of Excellence for Defense Against Terrorism, the United States Institute for Peace, and the African Union. Mogan also served as an adviser to the US State Department, developing strategies for digital counter-terrorism. He regularly provides commentary about online disinformation for publications such as New York Times, NBC, NPR, and Wired.1.
Guest Post by Lauren Wiseman Technology is the future of humankind, and in the years to come, it will become an even bigger part of our everyday lives. Aside from its obvious benefits in our daily routines, it's important to note that technological advancement is revolutionizing the modern business sector, as well. Currently, there is no industry in the world that doesn’t stand to benefit from the implementation of some form of software or hardware. From cybersecurity to manufacturing, from marketing to sales and HR, all the way to your digital presence, there are countless ways investing in technology can help your business reach new heights of success. Let’s talk more in-depth about these opportunities and uncover the most interesting ways that technology is transforming the way we do business on a global scale. Be sure to implement the following yourself to ensure growth and success in 2021. Unifying business communications with VoIP Let’s talk about the importance of communication in business. Internal and external communication are the two basic pillars of efficiency and productivity on one hand, and marketing, PR, and sales on the other. Remote work has become the norm, and companies are becoming more and more decentralized. Unfortunately, the first thing that starts to deteriorate is communication. Deterioration doesn’t just occur because of the physical distance between employees or the distance between you and your customers — it also happens because you’re using too many communication tools at once. If you don’t unify your communication system in a centralized solution like VoIP (voice over internet protocol), your expenses can skyrocket and internal and external communication may be impossible without sizable financial investments. With a system like VoIP, though, you get low-cost national and international calls, a mobile app, video and audio conferencing, auto-attendants, and a myriad of other centralized tools to make global communication efficient and effective. Automating some crucial and some menial processes Automation is a word you’re probably hearing a lot, and for a number of important reasons. Rather than looking at it as just another buzzword, you should look at it as an opportunity to make all of your departments more efficient and productive in the months and years to come. Automation has revolutionized many industries, and innovators are now coupling it with AI and machine learning to create automated solutions for everything. If you’re in manufacturing, you have robots as well as cloud-based supply chain management. If you need to make marketing processes more efficient, you have everything from email automation to social media, analytics and reporting. There is an automation tool for every need, so sit down with your department leads, and talk about the kind of tools they need to deliver better results and make the lives of your employees easier, and their work more rewarding. Personalizing the user experience on business websites Whether you’re a solopreneur or you’re a part of a big corporation, you can’t deny that having a website is one of the most important elements of digital success. Your website is your storefront, your portfolio, and your brand’s image — so it’s important to make it as impactful and memorable as possible for a global audience. If you’re running a solo business venture bearing your name, then creating a unique personal website is paramount to long-term success and growth. Building a personal website is also the only way to really personalize the user experience. If you’re managing a corporate website, then you still need to personalize the user experience as much as possible. You can start by personalizing the domain name with a .me top-level domain that will improve domain name stickiness, and then move on to creating personalized website copy to engage the right customer demographics. All in all, your digital presence relies on having an amazing website, so make sure to leverage the right tech tools to build and manage a site that Google and the online audiences will love. Ensuring cybersecurity in a dangerous digital environment Speaking of managing a website the right way, don’t forget that the online world is becoming a more dangerous place by the day, which is why investing in the right cybersecurity tech is paramount. Cybersecurity is becoming a more pressing issue every year, because you have to make sure that you’re able to protect sensitive consumer and business data, and prevent data breaches that could ruin your brand’s reputation. Now that hackers and scammers are becoming more tech-savvy than ever before, you need to respond with your own tech countermeasures. You can invest in automated early warning systems, a secure web gateway, as well as hardware and software firewalls to keep your network safe at all times. Leveraging big data analytics along with artificial intelligence The online world has become an overly saturated place teeming with useful information about your customers, the industry, your competitors, and more. If you are to make data-driven decisions, you can no longer manually collect and analyze data, simply because there is so much of it right now in the digital space. Well, you might not be able to do it on your own anymore, but AI certainly can. Bringing artificial intelligence and big data analytics together allows you to collate vast amounts of industry data and create detailed reports and forecasts. In turn, this allows you to capitalize on the emerging trends and opportunities that your competitors know nothing about. Technology is transforming the global business landscape in a myriad of ways, but that doesn’t mean that you need to jump on every tech innovation that hits the market. Instead, invest in these tech solutions and implement the tips we talked about today to secure your position in the industry and ensure success in the years to come. Lauren Wiseman is a marketing specialist, contributor to bizzmarkblog.com, and entrepreneur. She helps clients grow their personal and professional brands in fast-changing and demanding markets, strongly believing in a holistic approach to business.
Guest post by Parag Patel Doing business in the digital age comes with many benefits, including technological advances that simplify complex or tedious tasks. One of the best examples of this is automated financial technology. This includes AI-driven automation advancements in bookkeeping, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll administration, financial planning and analysis, and more. Intelligent financial platforms like these have risen in availability and popularity over the last several years, but many companies are still behind in implementing financial automation as it can be difficult to make big changes to core operations. However, it doesn’t have to be. The following paragraphs will outline five key ways in which financial automation can improve your business, making it a worthwhile investment to consider. Benefits of financial automation technology 1. Improve productivity The number one benefit of implementing financial automation is an immediate improvement in productivity. Automating high volume, repetitive business tasks that involve processing data, like bookkeeping, accounts receivable, payroll administration and more will save your business both time and money. Simply put, with the implementation of automated software and services your finance department will be able to process more work, but in less time and with less overhead. 2. Refocus skilled staff on strategic work With the time freed up by the productivity improvements mentioned above, businesses can refocus their skilled staff on work that adds more value to the company, rather than tedious, repetitive tasks. For example, instead of having your talented finance team spending time chasing down late bill payments or processing payroll, you can automate these tasks and shift their focus to responsibilities that require more critical and creative thinking and will propel your company forward. 3. Reduce human error Another key benefit of financial automation is the reduction of human error. It’s a simple fact that the more manual a process is, the more prone it is to mistakes. In the case of a business’ finances, a human error can result in delayed cash flow, time wasted, and distortions to the financial health of the company. Leveraging financial automation technology is guaranteed to improve accuracy throughout your finance department. 4. Improve cash flow In short, financial automation helps businesses get paid and pay their own bills faster, which means having a more accurate understanding of cash flow each month. Technological advances in the accounts receivable and accounts payable fields are primary drivers for this benefit. Utilizing automated accounts receivable platforms results in a streamlined invoicing process that reduces compliance and administrative issues that commonly delay payments. On the flip side, accounts payable automation allows companies to process and pay their own invoices seamlessly and in a timely manner. 5. Build better customer relationships Financial automation inevitably means moving processes online. That translates into customers having access to important information, such as invoices and transaction histories, and the ability to execute important actions, like bill payment, at the touch of a button. This results in a convenient and straightforward user experience which can lead to higher customer satisfaction and, ultimately, better customer retention. Additionally, as outlined above, automation improves productivity and efficiency. The time and overhead savings you find in your finance department can mean more resources going towards nurturing current customer relationships and taking a proactive approach to new client acquisition. Taking the first step towards financial automation If your curiosity into financial automation is piqued but you’re unsure of the next steps, my best piece of advice is to select one area of focus and conduct a cost analysis to uphold your status quo. Having a smaller target for improvement will be less overwhelming than trying to overhaul an entire finance department and the cost analysis will be crucial as you price out different automation solutions. Oftentimes, businesses start their automation journey with more repetitive processes such as invoice processing and bill payment, rather than more complicated tasks like financial planning and analysis, because they result in a quick return on investment. In fact, an Invoiced study found automated accounts receivable and automated accounts payable technology have the highest adoption rates among financial automation at 49 percent and 47 percent respectively, and also earned the highest satisfaction levels among those using them. Overall, investing in financial automation technology will save your business time and money, give you a competitive edge and help you create a better customer experience. So the question is not whether you should implement it, but rather when will you take the leap? Parag Patel is Co-Founder & COO of Invoiced, a leading Accounts Receivable Automation platform. Parag teamed with co-founder Jared King in 2014 to help the popular platform make the transition from breakthrough product to category-leading company. With thousands of clients around the world now relying on Invoiced for billing, collections, and payment acceptance, Parag leads Invoiced’s customer care organization including professional services, customer success, and support.
Guest Post by Connie Benton The last couple of decades have been nothing but an unstoppable drive for innovation. The problem is, innovation often comes with new risks. Many people immediately think of Tesla's unfortunate 2018 accident involving faulty autopilot. Risk is a huge problem for the self-driving cars industry, but security issues stifle digital innovation as well. A survey by Webroot found that 400 out of 500 senior decision-makers in the United Kingdom believe that cybersecurity risks prevent innovation. If that's true, how can innovation and security intersect? Read on to find out. And even if you’re not creating the next big thing in tech, it’s a good idea to implement many of these tips in your business of any type. What risks does digital innovation pose? The biggest risk when it comes to digital innovation is data breach. This may not have been a huge issue just a decade ago, but now websites and apps gather huge pools of information on their users in an effort to personalize their experiences. An average database consists of a massive amount of personal information including names, email addresses, passwords, and possibly linked banking accounts of users. If any of this information is mishandled, it opens up an opportunity for identity theft and fraud. Commercial apps and websites that gather data on users are suffering plenty from this problem, but it hits government apps even harder. Imagine a data breach in a social security app, and you can understand why making government services more accessible online is a huge feat. But you’re probably not creating an app for your state, you just want to innovate to better serve your customers. Here are three main steps that you need to go through to make sure your business pivots are both innovative and secure. 1. Implement cybersecurity best practices Before you set out to create a piece of innovative tech, you’ll need to implement all of the best practices that the cybersecurity industry has developed over the years. This starts with the most basic things. Keep everything password-protected You’d be surprised how many data breaches happen because the developers forgot to put a password on a database that’s meant to be private. In 2017, Verizon suffered a breach that led to 6 million accounts being exposed. Why did that happen? It turned out, employees stored data publicly, with no password, so the hackers didn’t even sweat it to get their hands on private user information. Don’t make this easily avoided mistake and protect your databases with a strong password that changes monthly. Utilize two-factor authentication The next big cybersecurity threat is social engineering attacks, also known as phishing. These allow hackers to defraud users out of their passwords to your platform. From there, they may be able to defraud them of money or identity information as well. The easiest way to prevent this is to have a two-factor authentication system in place. Then, even if the password is compromised, the fraudsters won’t be able to access your users' accounts without having access to their email or mobile phone. This greatly reduces the impact of data breaches. Educate employees Just like your customers, your employees also can be victims of a social engineering attack. If they happen to have a virus on their laptops and log in to work from home, this can endanger your whole system. Veronica Seann from Cake HR Software provides a list of tips that help you keep your employees and your company safe: If you have a bring your own device policy or remote workers, let them log into the system with a firewall. Train employees to recognize phishing attempts. Only use work emails for handling secure data. Make a policy of changing the password frequently. Encrypt data The previous three tips will make sure your employees and users don’t fall victim to hackers that go for the low-hanging fruit. If you want to implement advanced measures, look into data encryption. Some outdated hashing methods may give hackers the ability to reverse engineer the encrypted data. Use the latest and strongest methods of encryption like the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Secure Hash Algorithm 2 (SHA-256) to make sure that’s impossible. De-identify data If you do suffer a data breach, ensure your customers don't suffer by de-identifying the data you store. Remove from the database, mask, or store in different hashes all the information that can link personally identifiable data to the stolen data. Scan for breaches Don’t let the fraudsters be ahead of you. Scan for suspicious activity that may indicate a breach has happened. If you integrate a data breach scanning software into your system, you’ll be able to act before damage is done. 2. Think like a hacker With every new technology, with every new sensitive database, comes the potential for abuse. Don’t let the hackers outsmart you. Instead, think about the potential abuse right when you’re developing the architecture for your software. Look for weaknesses that can be exploited and eliminate them. For instance, you may be storing passwords for a less sensitive database in plain text, but access to that database exposes poorly hashed passwords for a database that contains sensitive information. That’s sure going to be taken advantage of and you need to improve on this mistake. Dmytro Vdovychynskyi, a security engineer from Preply gives this advice regarding developing a secure software architecture: “Thinking about security only in a few contexts or like on one-time action is a disastrous way. Of course, everything depends on organization goals but it must be done in a measurable way and built into development in all stages of the system development life cycle: from planning till maintenance." Vdovychynskyi explains that, currently, the two most popular frameworks in software development are OWASP Software Assurance Maturity Model and Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle. 3. Hire cybersecurity testers Do you store extremely sensitive data like banking information or social security numbers? You may need to take more proactive steps and hire a third-party security testing company to make sure there is no potential for a breach. This will help you eliminate all the minor data architecture problems you may have. Besides, a cybersecurity certificate will help with building consumer trust. It’s possible to be both innovative and secure With the amount of data that companies gather on their customers, corresponding levels of risk are continually increasing. However, it’s possible to create something innovative that bears minimal threat to your customers’ security. Follow these tips, and you will be able to keep your customers’ data safe. Connie Benton is a content writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, she takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.