Technology Roundtable: Everybody's business [Extended]

All companies are tech companies today. That sentiment was reinforced as industry leaders gathered in New York City to discuss the cloud, mobility, and the Big Apple's influence on the sector at this Airfoil-hosted roundtable.

Participants
-David Bailey, EVP, GM of Silicon Valley, Airfoil
-Dan Barnhardt, global PR director, Infor
-Blair Decembrele, corporate communications manager, LinkedIn
-Josh Kampel, president, Techonomy
-Lisa LaCour, VP of global marketing, Outbrain
-Jessica Lawrence, executive director, NY Tech Meetup
-Josh Rosenberg, CEO, Day One Agency
-Gary Stockman, chief marketing and communications officer, CSC
-Victoria Taylor, communications director, Reddit
-Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO, Waggener Edstrom Communications

The meaning of technology
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Define what technology is in 2014.

David Bailey (Airfoil): I used Uber to get here today. I started thinking about the need for all companies to focus on how technology can either help them accelerate or how it’s going to kill them. Just thinking about all the taxi companies that are probably cursing Uber. Everybody needs a tech strategy.

Jessica Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): The dictionary definition of technology is the application of knowledge to solve a problem. I would add a clause about humans figuring out tools to help them adapt to their environment.

However, our recent economic impact study found the number of tech jobs in non-tech companies, such as Citi and The New York Times, actually exceeds the number of people employed in tech jobs at tech companies in New York City. That underscores how the definition of tech is expanding. Technology won’t be as defined by the mobile phone or Internet as it has been.

Josh Rosenberg (Day One Agency): A co-panelist is wearing the Fitbit. I have the Jawbone Up. With that sort of technology and information, people have the power to change. It’s also an opportunity for companies to rethink the way they communicate.

Lisa LaCour (Outbrain): Technology is the underlying basis of everything we do. For the average consumer, the word "technology" is not necessarily in their vernacular. It’s more about what will make their daily lives easier.

Dan Barnhardt (Infor): The wheel was technology at one point. It was something created to solve a problem, but problems change. Today, people are really looking to collaborate and share, which, of course, impacts communications.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin (Waggener Edstrom [WE]): The lines are blurring between all industries as the result of technology, which, in turn, impacts who can enter all these sectors. To take a different twist, I’m most excited about technology when it enables the solving of world problems.

Josh Kampel (Techonomy): People interchangeably use the words technology and innovation, but there is tech-driven innovation and there’s innovation that comes from improved processes. Technology is an enabler.

It’s also interesting to hear people refer to Google as a tech company. Look at its portfolio. It’s getting into drones, photo satellites, even Google X or Google Ventures. It’s becoming this ubiquitous company, no longer just tech. Conversely, you have brands not traditionally thought of as tech companies wanting to be positioned as such. MasterCard and Ford, for example, say, "We’re a tech company."

Victoria Taylor (Reddit): Technology is any tool that enables things to accelerate. Whether it was an astrolabe, the wheel, or an instant solution that connects people with service providers. Technology is all about speeding up that process and making it even more seamless so things happen at a quicker rate than ever before. It’s a very quick sort of scale of increased use of these types of developments.

Gary Stockman (CSC): I recently joined Computer Sciences Corporation and found it amazing the word "computer" was in the name of a company founded in 1959. However, the orientation of CSC has always been solving difficult problems through the application of technology. That is what has become the classic definition.

In the past 20 years or so, the major pivot is that we now talk about technology in terms of the benefit it delivers. Previously, the focus was capabilities and speeds and feeds.

Blair Decembrele (LinkedIn): Years ago, consumers conceptualized technology as being something far off, developed thousands of miles away. Now it’s in the hands of consumers, whether it be Fitbit or just signing up for a spin class online. It’s into these data-driven business models that are driven by consumer behavior.

Stockman (CSC): For those of us who started in enterprise or b-to-b, it’s amazing to see the level of change and development that is consumer-driven these days. Even technology in the workplace has morphed on the basis of consumer preference, not what the CIO says.

LaCour (Outbrain): That’s where data is empowering companies to see the consumer patterns and actually apply those to what they do.

Barnhardt (Infor): We used to see technology at work and wanted it at home. The iron and vacuum cleaner were first at work and we wanted those in our homes. Today, consumer technology has outpaced business technology in many ways. We want the stuff we’re using at home in our workplace.

Kampel (Techonomy): The CIO and CTO have transitioned from just being the purchasers of technology to being key parts of the decision of where the business is moving. The CEO set the direction and the CIO or CTO bought the technology to empower that vision. Now the CIO and CTO are part of that discussion.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): In turn, communications has to be a lot more prescient, engaging, and talk through the feedback loop as opposed to just conveying how great the technology is.

In the cloud
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What has been the biggest impact of cloud-based computing?

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): Having things in the cloud has completely changed the workforce dynamic. It enables a more dispersed staff and the hiring of talent that previously would not have committed to you due to daily commuting issues and the like. It’s also blurring the lines of the economy. There may be a graphic designer in Brooklyn hired by someone in Iowa. So the person in Iowa is impacting New York’s economy.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): At the end of the day, the human element, the analytical element, the relationship piece is what’s so important about big data and cloud computing. We can have reams of data, but it’s humans who explain what it all means to the audiences we care about. The cloud helps that process.

Stockman (CSC): The cloud has facilitated an environment where we increasingly look to hire people who can think analytically. We need people who use both sides of their brain, who can be creative, but can apply that creativity based on the insights they gain through analytics delivered via mobile and the cloud.

In truth, technology has connected us in ways we still haven’t figured out how to optimize. We still don’t quite have the same collaborative rhythm working globally that we do with someone in the next office. There’s room for innovation there.

Kampel (Techonomy): A great example of the cloud’s impact can be seen in clinical trials. The process used to be done by collecting data at a site and someone manually entering the data before it gets to the actual processing. You’d see huge issues with drugs that were causing problems worldwide where they couldn’t see the trends. With the cloud, everything is happening and being processed in real time. You’re able to spot differences and problems before they become major issues. The cloud is enabling efficiencies in all industries.

Bailey (Airfoil): Look at Tesla and the issues it had with car fires. It did an over-the-air update to change the suspension of the car. Talk about the cloud’s impact. It spurred a genuine discussion about what Tesla is. Is it a tech company, an auto company, or both?

Barnhardt (Infor): The cloud is enabling companies to be more specific than ever in staffing based on behavioral traits or cultural fit. You can analyze behavioral traits, come up with a DNA profile of your top performers using big data, and then screen employees based on relevant questions, their responses, and how their personalities fit in with what you’re doing. You see many companies studying behavioral profiles of their top performers and then comparing candidates to that. The cloud has helped facilitate all this. 

Taylor (Reddit): We see people posting content hosted within the cloud to Reddit. You’ll have people posting a piece of content from Imager, YouTube, all these different meme sites, as well as other blogs and sites. They’re having these conversations around what may be a similar topic, but each one of those pieces of content are hosted on a different cloud platform. That’s really interesting to communicators because you want to see what people are saying about your latest innovation, product, and your company. The fact people can connect around these different pieces of content that are hosted in such multifaceted places contributes to a richer, deeper conversation. 

Rosenberg (Day One): In terms of instantaneous and transparent connections, the cloud enables communicators to act almost the way Elon Musk did during the incident David brought up earlier.

Decembrele (LinkedIn): It’s the ability to break down barriers and be much more efficient. I can work with a colleague in the Ukraine or India in a manner that doesn’t prohibit cycle time. Video calling has also had a big impact in helping me get to know colleagues. It’s another way the cloud breaks down barriers of distance.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): Perhaps ironically, but the cloud also helps with offline connections. When you get together in person, your relationship is already enhanced because you’ve been talking on Twitter, Facebook, or chatting. There isn’t all this catch-up to do.

Barnhardt (Infor): When you’re dispersed, you lack the tribal knowledge of knowing whom to go to for certain problems. The cloud helps that, too. When you have a problem, the system will automatically route you to the person you need.

LaCour (Outbrain): All of our technology is in Israel, where we have 140 people. The ability to communicate face to face over the cloud is vital when you consider cultural differences, personalities, and language barriers. Things get lost in translation in memos or emails.

Mastering mobile
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
With consumer expectations of them very high on the mobile front, how can tech companies stand out?

Rosenberg (Day One): It’s about optimizing the message based on the right time, place, and device. And tech companies, in particular, are able to do that. They can target a niche group with a message, even down to the device where they receive it. Technology companies can truly leverage what they know best in the world of communications.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): On top of that, simplicity is a great thing because tech companies didn’t inherently start that way. Now everybody realizes you only have X amount of time to really get in front of your audience with something relevant, distinct, compelling, and emotional. This is great for communicators because that simplicity translates to happier consumers who can give you feedback.

Rosenberg (Day One): You know exactly where they are based on the device. If you have an app or a way to send them a push notification that’s valuable and something they’ve opted into you can actually make a sale very easily.

Stockman (CSC): What will get intriguing is the idea of drones as capturers and potentially distributors of information and items. That will stretch the boundaries of what we consider mobile to be. Once you shift gears and start to think of time and place as part of the communications mix, you also start to think of some other input and output devices as part of that.

Barnhardt (Infor): If you say, "I have a mobile strategy" today, you’re behind. Mobile strategy is something you should have talked about years ago. Right now it’s about the experience. The consumer wants the same experience wherever they are, on whatever device they’re using, tailored for that device.

LaCour (Outbrain): Is Uber really a car company? Think about what the underlying platform is enabling. It’s moving people from place to place. It’s getting a lot of data about where people are going and how you’re using it. It’s a very new company, but think about the foundation it is building.

Stockman (CSC): Uber will know more about traffic patterns in cities than anyone else.

LaCour (Outbrain): I’ve heard anecdotally that a big part of Uber’s growth is actually in wealthy Muslim countries where women can’t drive. It’s very interesting to think about what that will do for our social economy.

Taylor (Reddit): From the perspective of mobile, it’s really about building a personal relationship. Think about Line, an app about using pictures to represent your emotional states. It has a palette of emoticons and Emojis and you can buy endless packs of them to expand the experience. It’s about building that emotional connection with a mobile user, which is where we’re really seeing these apps take off. Even Uber is building this emotional connection of convenience.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): We’re seeing everyone developing an app for everything. However, when you look at user behavior you realize there are times when people just want a mobile-enabled website they can access on their browser.

A perfect example: a government group was developing an app to teach teens about STDs. If you need to look up information about STDs, first, you won’t want an app on your phone that says STD on it and, second, you probably won’t download it. You just want a good website where you can look up the information quickly.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): Mobility is changing behavior. It’s helping youths go out and vote. It’s helping mothers get healthcare information in places where hospitals don’t exist. It’s not always just about an app. Sometimes it’s just about a little bit of information that’s crafted for a certain person or group so they can do something they never could before.

Kampel (Techonomy): There really is no one-size-fits-all. It’s about understanding who your audience is and how they’re consuming your information. Companies that aren’t traditional tech entities don’t think of it that way. They just think mobile is the buzz and they focus on how to get in there quickly.

Bailey (Airfoil): The concept of "mobile moments" encapsulates the whole right time, right place, right method philosophy. Sometimes it can be a simple text message when I’m in an airport and can’t hear the announcement that the plane is either late or taking off early, but then a text message informs me. That’s a mobile moment. Getting those right is an opportunity for instant loyalty and a good relationship. It’s also an instant cue to unsubscribe if you get it wrong.

Stockman (CSC): You know what will engender loyalty? Mobile applications you can read and decipher on the screen of your smartphone. As more information is being delivered to screens that size and the people using those devices get older, this becomes a bigger consideration.

Barnhardt (Infor): Once technology delivers basic needs it will be the user experience that dominates. You know those buzzers at restaurants that signal when your table is ready? How good would it be if you can go anywhere and those would still work? It’s all going to be about what sort of experience is delivered to the consumer.

Decembrele (LinkedIn): Our members, as well as consumers at large, have short attention spans. As communicators, it’s vital to think about how we reach them where they are at the right moment, all while making their lives easier. It takes a diversified communications strategy with marketing and social to make it much more robust.

Protecting privacy
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
The Supreme Court recently ruled police must obtain a warrant to search the data on a suspect’s cell phone. Many view this as a major victory for citizen’s rights to protect their privacy. Please discuss your thoughts on the decision and on privacy’s impact on communications efforts overall.

Stockman (CSC): The decision showed a significant government entity recognizing the change in personal relationships with technology. The basis for the decision was the idea this is not some random device we happen to have in our pocket, but it is inextricably linked with who we are.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): The decision was definitely a victory for the individual, though I worry about various entities keeping up with the pace of change in every industry. You think about all the regulations and all the other countries that are doing things faster, bigger, and better for their consumers and the US sometimes lags. It’s crucial the people governing all of this really understand what will move society forward. It would behoove the regulators to have a much better understanding of the prescience of technology, where it’s moving, and how they need to move to that point more quickly.

Kampel (Techonomy): I’d also call up the European Union and the right to be forgotten. Now you’re talking about censorship and the ability to take information down. Is that a win for the individual? We created this worldwide Web where information just exists and will do so forever. Should the individual have the right to retract or take that information down? For them to say yes was pretty amazing.

Barnhardt (Infor): There’s another case that concerns me. A US judge ruled that Microsoft must turn over a customer’s emails even though the information is held in a Dublin data center. The basis for this decision is the fact Microsoft does business in the US. That has huge implications for cloud computing, particularly around Europe, which is still reeling from Edward Snowden. It similarly impacts companies that have global partners and do so much on the cloud. Will this force us to have a data center is every country? And even if we do, will the fact we do business in the US allow government access to it?

Kampel (Techonomy): It’s beyond data. What about 3D printing? Should it be regulated? I recently read when the first Xerox machine came out, many felt it should be regulated because you can counterfeit documents and bills. There have been very recent court deliberations regarding Aereo and Airbnb. Tech is accelerating everything so quickly and the government and regulators can’t keep up.

For example, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was asking questions about Aereo, it was amazing how under-informed the people making big decisions are about the world, let alone tech. He didn’t realize HBO was a subscription service, for example.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): There is also the citizen-to-citizen relationship to consider when mulling privacy. There was one gentleman who came to an after-party of ours. He emailed me because there was another person walking around wearing Google Glasses and he wanted to know if we would consider banning them because he didn’t feel comfortable being caught on tape. He’s new to technology. He assumed the guy walking around was basically making recordings of the room.

The gentleman who emailed me was looking for a new job and didn’t want his boss to see him at this party. I found this question curious in the sense that how is Google Glass different than a cell phone or even a camera? As I told him in my reply, we would have to ban all recording and all photography in the after-party. We allow it because we want people to share their experience and get other people excited to come. This does highlight, however, that we are basically being tracked everywhere we go. People can capture us on camera. So what is that relationship from citizen to citizen around privacy? Is there even such a thing as privacy anymore when I can take pictures of all of you just by pulling a small device out of my pocket?

Taylor (Reddit): One of our core tenets is that members don’t use their real names nor share their identity. The only exception is our AMAs and that’s because you have to verify that you’re legitimately Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna, or whomever. For the everyday user, however, that frees them to express themselves in a lot of different ways and to build their own identities within the community. Within each subReddit, you have people who become experts on certain subjects who can offer advice or assistance. Their user name becomes a trusted source for data.

Our user Unidan has become our resident expert on science and biology. People know him through the site and through his Reddit handle. This is one way to navigate privacy. You have these handles that are kept very private from your real identity so you’re able to connect with topics you’re passionate about without calling to question a job search or your status. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, for example, you can look up resources about the disease without worrying about sharing it with your friends and family.

Decembrele (LinkedIn): We’ve actually found the opposite. Having content tied to the professional identity, as it is on LinkedIn, has really created these very rich conversations that have fueled dialogue. On average, we have 200 comments on every post, so the engagement is extremely high. One way works for Reddit, another works for us.

Advising the government
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What can communicators do to get the government more up to speed so they can regulate these matters more effectively?

LaCour (Outbrain): We’re actively conversing with the FTC around disclosure for advertising when it comes to content and working with media companies. We’re talking with the Advertising Standards Authority in Europe about disclosure on what is paid for and how it’s presented to consumers. When brands pay for a piece of content, it needs to be fully disclosed to consumers. That’s a big deal in the media, advertising, and marcomms spaces.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): Talking from a broader standpoint, we have organized protests in front of Sen. Schumer’s offices. It started with protests against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). That opened a dialogue where we could talk to him about other issues. Recently, Schumer signed a letter opposing the FCC’s proposed action around net neutrality.

Sometimes it just takes getting in front of elected officials. In the past, there was a general sense in the tech community to stay as far away as possible from government and interact only when necessary. But now, especially as technologies are starting to butt up against a lot of old regulations, we’re forced to have more of these conversations. The Personal Democracy Forum was created to focus on the intersection of technology, policy, and the public sector.

It’s equally important, however, to educate those in the tech community. A main challenge for those who really push the edges of innovation is they simply don’t see the potential problems of what they’re doing. They don’t realize regulations are in place around housing and illegal hotels because people have died from staying in overcrowded places that didn’t have proper exits or fire extinguishers. We must revisit these conversations now that we have an Airbnb and figure out how to update regulations for that reality.

Rosenberg (Day One): Airbnb’s recent ad campaign in New York is not only focused on raising awareness of the offering, which is still pretty low in New York, but also on existing regulations and how Airbnb fits in with them.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): The communications industry needs to help innovators explain the why behind everything, not just the greatness of what they’re creating in the moment. Communications is a change-management tool. It can alter behaviors when done properly. The "why," not just the what, is a huge part of that.

Kampel (Techonomy): I recall being with the CEO at one of the big crowdsourcing platforms recently. With some amazement, he was telling me about a cease-and-desist letter he received for the government because funds raised for a certain campaign wound up in Iraq. He never thought about international transfer of funds and how that gets legislated. It just goes to show the unexpected, but vital issues tech companies have to think about.

Taylor (Reddit): Simple as it sounds, a huge part of this is just getting people to unite and work together. We’ve been trying to educate everybody on net neutrality. It literally affects everyone, regardless of political leanings or business type. If you have to pay for premium access or premium streaming, it will be problematic for so many different people.

Barnhardt (Infor): Uber is doing a very effective job with this. In many places where it is facing a lot of local regulation resistance – New Orleans and Virginia, for example – Uber has built a groundswell of consumer support where they are calling elected officials demanding the laws not allowing Uber be fixed.

Big Apple growth
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Why has New York become such a prime technology hub?

Bailey (Airfoil): The question to me is why the tech boom didn't happen in New York sooner. It’s the center of finance and capital, which is incredibly important. It’s the center of media, which so many of us deal with every day, not to mention the sheer communications infrastructure here. Silicon Valley used to be the place to be in this sector. Now, you have to be in both places, and arguably a few others. How can you be in the tech sector and not have a notable New York presence?

Decembrele (LinkedIn): It’s exciting to see companies such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google really expand so rapidly in New York, particularly when you look at the transformation of talent. You’re already seeing really top people from other sectors enter tech. That will only increase.

Bailey (Airfoil): So much has been written about the "Silicon Valley bubble" and people living in it a bit too much. The Valley needs New York as the opposite of that bubble.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): There is so much diversity of ideas in New York and the energy just creates new and different things. And it’s definitely not in a bubble. In addition, look at all the traditional industries that are in New York that are truly invested in tech. Even fashion. Look at all the wearable devices now.

Stockman (CSC): New York also happens to be a place a lot of young people want to live. You can’t underestimate that, particularly since the tech industry skews so young.

Kampel (Techonomy): New York has global proximity. Geographically, it offers the best access in the US from anywhere in the world. The time zone also works well as compared to any global region.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): In terms of technology, New York found itself in a very unusual position – being the underdog. And New York doesn’t like being second- or third-best at anything. The businesses based here, as well as the city government and the Economic Development Corporation, invested a lot of money and time to really showcase New York’s growing technology community to entice people to come here. Mayor Bloomberg was instrumental in getting companies such as Facebook and Yelp to come here.

Another interesting thing about New York is that although it’s a really big city, it also feels like a small town and has a sense of community. You can run into the same people over and over again. It’s extremely competitive, but there’s very much this sense of "we’re all in this together." I’ve had many people tell me they feel the interactions in New York are much more open than in Silicon Valley. People here are more collaborative. It’s a lot less secretive.

Taylor (Reddit): From a very practical standpoint, the transportation in this city is such that I can be on my phone all the time and needn’t look up. Whether you’re on a bus, in a taxi, or even on the subway, this city frees up your mental energy to be able to focus on other things.

Barnhardt (Infor): Infor relocated its headquarters from Atlanta to New York in 2012 because we wanted to think outside the Silicon Valley box. We wanted to hire people from fashion and design. We’ve hired a Pulitzer Prize winner for infographics and these guys are now designing the interface for enterprise software.

Back to the point about proximity. Being in New York enables many more of our customers to visit us, particularly the C-level executives who either live here or visit here, which many more do than in Atlanta. When you’re pitching for business that is incredibly valuable.

Kampel (Techonomy): New York is a wonderful tech hub, as is Silicon Valley, but other cities are entering the conversation. Look at what Tony Hsieh is doing in Las Vegas, for example. Folks in other cities are learning from what New York has done and trying to emulate it. You’re starting to see these little tech hubs emerging all over, but in places where maybe you get a better quality of life. And with the cloud, of course, I still could get talent from wherever.

Rosenberg (Day One): Even a town like Kansas City, KS, with Google Fiber, is attracting a lot of new tech startups and other brands that want to be involved in the tech community. Google Fiber exemplifies the kind of technology that has changed the way people connect in their local communities.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): Another key is getting curricula in both high school and higher education to focus on innovation, creativity, and invention. From that community, great ideas are born. Look at Austin, TX. It’s both a great university town and a hotbed for music. Both breed innovation, which can truly happen anywhere like minds get together to collaborate and learn. It’s more about that than the pedigree of a particular city.

Barnhardt (Infor): We just launched a partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) where interns come in and code on our software. CUNY schools run our software in the classrooms, where the students learn to use it. We’re trying to help prepare the next generation of tech workers because there’s a shortage everywhere.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): As all these different cities become tech hubs, it won’t help any of us to keep poaching talent from one city to the other.

Building partnerships with schools is so crucial, but even pre-university. If you think about the state of K-12 education, the integration of not just technology and computer science, but analytical thinking is missing completely from most curricula. Most tech classes now, even in high school, still teach kids how to make a PowerPoint. Five- and 6-year-olds are figuring that out on their own. For any city to thrive in the tech space, it has to fill the talent pipeline and think more holistically about workforce development.

Where to begin
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
If you were launching a tech startup today, what would be the most important part of your comms strategy?

Bailey (Airfoil): Getting everyone in the company to realize they are communicators. The cloud gives a small company the ability to scale and compete with folks with much bigger teams that have a lot more agency support. Everybody can broadcast and communicate on numerous platforms.

Lawrence (NY Tech Meetup): Mobile devices and general Internet access have made us all better BS detectors. As such, simple as it sounds, having an offering that is actually good and useful is the first step in having a great communications strategy. My organization gets pitched on so many products that are simply not helpful to anyone. Not every offering has to save the world, but I see so many things that don’t solve anyone’s problems. You can’t communicate about how awesome your product is if your product isn’t awesome. 

Rosenberg (Day One): Keep it simple and have a clear point of view. Your core consumer needs to understand why your offering will help change what it is they do every day.

LaCour (Outbrain): You have to realize there are ongoing conversations in your sector, so when you jump in, you have to add value to those. Limit the marketing jargon and really focus on what people want to hear about. You need a great story to tell and a great plan to tell it. You have to underscore the benefits you are bringing to the market and to consumers – and this holds true whether you are a b-to-c or b-to-b company.

Outbrain is a b-to-b company, but I’m a consumer marketer who was hired for that reason. Consumers are very much a target of ours. They are the end users. Inasmuch as many tech startups are b-to-b, this is a crucial aspect for them to think about immediately. Don’t just sell the product. Tell a story.

Barnhardt (Infor): Clearly define who you are and what your culture is. Then find a concise, simple, and relevant way to develop engaging content and share it. You need to engage people early so they will share your content, so that’s a relationship you must nurture from the start. And you need to track and measure it so it ultimately drives back to sales.

Waggener Zorkin (WE): We are successful when we measure something. In fact, we’re most successful at those things we measure as human beings. So the most important part of a startup’s communications plan is the intrinsic measurement built into the foreground, plus the insights and analytics that go around it. It can’t just be at the end. It must start at the start. Who is it you want to move? Where do you want to move them? What behavioral shift are you after and how will you achieve it? And then you must have the courage to change midstream if you’re not doing things the right way.

Kampel (Techonomy): Thought must be given to discovering unique ways to communicate. And for a startup, if you begin communicating that way it truly gets noticed. Pinpoint ways to integrate yourself into your audience’s daily process, as opposed to just pushing stuff at them and hope they see it.

Taylor (Reddit): We live in a landscape where everyone and no one are influencers simultaneously. So many startups focus immediately on targeting influencers and thought leaders. Obviously, there are some who are more vocal and easy to find, but everyone has the ability to be an influencer. It’s crucial to craft a communications strategy with an eye toward the fact it should be like a tank. It should continuously move from all these different audiences so you’re not just targeting one specific group. You never know with whom it’s going to resound.

Too often, we also view ourselves as being the sole guardians of the message. But at the very early stages, you must identify supporters and build a relationship with them so they feel invested in your success.

Stockman (CSC): Startups should embrace their humanity in two ways. One, they should ask themselves how their offering will actually serve people. It’s not just about cool features, but providing a service that was heretofore unavailable. The second part goes back to being authentic. Be conversational and genuine. In a world where everything is visible and transparent, people can easily see who isn’t being human and will be less inclined to do business with you.

Decembrele (LinkedIn): One of the first thoughts has to be about leveraging employees to serve as brand ambassadors. If you want to empower your audience, it has to start by empowering the staff. In addition, when you’re building a startup, it can go in so many different directions. In communications, it’s vital a company stays true to what it is, does so consistently, and clearly communicates that.

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