Irish Examiner: Human robots prepare to take on customer service

With robots able to gobble up data and spit out answers more quickly than humans, they have already been hired to take up roles in customer support.

A study by Oxford University and Deloitte found that UK jobs in customer service were one of the top 50 occupations at risk of becoming automated by robotics.

But even as bots break into the mainstream, humans are still needed to deal with customers, according to Liam Keegan, a content marketing specialist at XSellco, an Irish company that offers help desk and repricing technology to online retailers.

“At the moment, bots are good at cutting out the really basic, low-hanging fruit in customer support… Basically, bots are just a fancy version of automated responders on telephones,” Mr Keegan says.

They are good at dealing with mind-numbing, repetitive customer queries. Where they fail is in their ability to process empathy and “the human stuff”.

If the customer is angry, an automated response is not going to appease them for long.

Add any degree of complexity and automated responders won’t work, Mr Keegan explains.

“There are a lot of semantic technologies being developed to make machine learning better, to make artificial intelligence better, to understand human language. But we’re nowhere near that being applied in a business situation,” he says.

Humans are still much better at dealing with complex queries. It’s likely to stay that way for some time. Large companies are, however, investing heavily in the potential for ‘chat bots’.

Facebook rolled out a bots service in its Messenger app earlier this year. And Mr Keegan believes that smaller companies will also dabble in “bot life”.

These firms could be a testing ground because the bots could work for them in dealing with repetitive tasks such as maintaining a presence on social media.

If bots work for firms at this level, they could start using them more widely across their business.

The process is likely to be slow, however. “Once we have a template that works across the board, I think you’ll see it become more prevalent across small and medium sized businesses,” Mr Keegan says.

Tom Richards, group product manager at Intercom, the Irish tech start-up that creates live chat and marketing services, says using bots will not necessarily replace human interaction.

Bots could help humans to put their “best foot forward” and resolve issues more quickly.

“I think that interactions with customers can be a really complex workflow. Before you have any of theses interactions or while you’re trying to juggle loads of them at once in a customer support context, you have to learn a lot about the things that are happening in that customer’s life that leads them to the question they have. Bots are going to be great at being able to set that context for humans,” Mr Richards says.

“They’re going to be able to give humans a real leg-up inside the support tools they use while talking to customers, so they can focus on the conversation rather than the administrative tasks,” he adds.

Professor Barry O’Sullivan — the director of the insight centre for data analytics at University College Cork and the incoming vice-chair of the European Association for Artificial Intelligence — says that though artificial intelligence is developing at a fast pace, the process is still slow.

“One of the very early innovators in artificial intelligence and winner of the Nobel Prize, Herbert Simon, once said that ‘Machines will be capable … of doing any work a man can do.’ I believe that Simon was right, but we’re several decades away from this,” Prof O’Sullivan says.

There are already a number of systems able to carry out many semi-professional and customer-facing jobs.

But he warns to expect “a fundamental change in the nature of work over the coming years”. The social effects will need to be carefully assessed.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 2, 2016.

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Irish Examiner: Ad blockers offer opportunity to online publishers

Imagine a web without ads: No more intrusive page takeovers, no more irrelevant pop-ups, and no more bizarre, third-party banners promising a septuagenarian’s secret to wrinkle-free skin.

For millions of media consumers around the world, this commercial-free utopia is a reality.

Ad-blocking has been a major concern for digital publishers and advertisers for a number of years, with consumers migrating to mobile, where the uptake in ad-blockers is greater.

PageFair, a Dublin-based company that provides media organisations with ad-blocking analytics and which creates anti-ad blocking technologies, published a report last year in conjunction with Adobe. It found that 200m desktop users have installed ad-blockers in their PCs and laptops.

A second report, focusing on mobile ad-blockers, was published last month. It found that 419m mobile users have installed ad-blockers in their devices.

“We’ve had 20 years of the online advertising industry, and it has gotten itself to a point where it faces a cul-de-sac that is self-destructive,” said Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem at PageFair.

“Ad-blocking is like the remote control for TV, invented in the 1950s. It might have taken a few years to land on your couch, but it was inevitable that it would eventually do so. I think it is possible to slow the spread of ad-blocking, but I suspect that the genie is out of the bottle,” he says.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau — IAB — a non-profit group that promotes best practice for online advertisers and publishers, has strongly condemned companies that create ad-blockers.

Recently, the IAB published the results of a small survey on ad-blocking, quizzing 1,300 desktop users and 201 mobile users in the US.

It found that 26% of desktop users and 15% of mobile users avail of ad-blockers. A further 17% of the sample, who do not currently use blockers, are “at risk of starting to do so”.

Similar to PageFair’s research, young respondents were the most likely to block ads, particularly young males who play data-heavy online games.

The reasons for using blockers are varied: over-populated ad spaces are distracting for consumers, ads sometimes intrude on content, and interactive ads consume a lot of data — a reason why many readers in emerging markets use blockers.

Mr Ryan says the rise of ad-blockers is also because of digital advertisers’ over-use of personal data.

“Advertising has evolved into a position where the industry is preoccupied with the notion of monitoring your behaviour to build a profile of you.

“It’s a mistake, because advertising worked just fine before the web. It was based on the idea of context,” Mr Ryan says.

The over-reliance on data has also led to inaccurate counts of genuine readers viewing advertisements online.

However, the problems created by ad-blocking and poor online advertisements have given publishers the opportunity to reimagine online advertising.

Mr Ryan, who is author of the book, A History of the Internet and the Digital Future, sees the problem of ad-blockers “as being one of those historical milestones”.

One proposition is to simply reduce the quantity.

Ads would cost more for advertisers and give readers an uncluttered space.

Suzanne McElligott, CEO of IAB Ireland, which in September will publish a Red C study on ad-blocking in Ireland, predicts that “we will see more engaging, more creative, better-quality advertising served in a more user-friendly manner”.

She thinks publishers will have to educate online users about the purpose of ads.

Harry Browne, a journalism lecturer at DIT’s School of Media, said he likes and uses ad-blockers.

But he warns that “it breaks the 200-plus-year-old, traditional media business model more surely than the mere provision of free content online ever did.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 1, 2016.

Irish Examiner: Marketing gurus catch a ride on Pokémon Go craze

Marketers will have to catch ‘em quick if they want to capitalise on the Pokémon Go craze.

Savvy retailers have already taken advantage of the game’s augmented reality function, where digital graphics are viewed in the real world through a smartphone camera.

In a bid to entice gamers to congregate at their shopfronts and boost footfall, businesses can use “lures” to increase the number of Pokémon characters in an area for a set period of time.

But simply dropping lures and hoping for the best is not enough for small businesses, according to Ellen Ryan, managing director of Yellow Machine, a communications firm specialising in the 18 to 35-year-old demographic.

“Create a bit of a buzz in your store with an event. You might have discounts around the store and have some goodies to give away. There is a small spend through the app, but you can really leverage that yourself and drive it to the next level by doing these incentives.”

Other brick and mortar businesses could use the game to attract attention and showcase their services too, she suggested.

“There are an awful lot of brands looking to capitalise on it,” said David Hayes, director of social search and performance media at digital agency, In The Company of Huskies.

“A lot of people want to just piggyback on something to make themselves look relevant. It’s like any major event. People will see through that.”

He argues that because Pokémon Go is a location-based app, brands that are somehow connected to mobility, such as businesses in the leisure, tourism or retail sectors, will benefit the most.

“One of our clients is Fáilte Ireland. We would be suggesting proactive pieces around [the game] because we think it is applicable to tourism.”

The Youth Lab, part of Thinkhouse youth marketing agency, has also explored opportunities Pokémon Go offers to brands, especially those looking to reach the coveted millennial market through “nostalgia culture”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Claire Hyland, director of insights at The Youth Lab, explained young people have this sense of sentimentality “because we’re in such a fast-paced, instant, everything-now world.

“Things are fleeting in so many ways that young people can actually have a nostalgia for something that happened six months ago or a year ago.”

She said that Pokémon Go’s ability to project the game into real-life scenarios makes it similar to the image messaging app Snapchat, which is largely associated with the youth market.

For advertisers, in-game promotions are certainly not a new concept but has largely consisted of pop-ups, that tend to irritate players.

It is hoped augmented reality will help solve this problem: Snapchat recently filed a patent for an ad-overlay system that turns messages into ads. For example, if a user takes a picture of their latte, a coffee brand’s logo will appear as a suggested filter.

With Pokémon Go and other augmented reality games, big brands should look to reach people using similar techniques that don’t intrude on the overall experience.

“The key thing is that [advertisements] don’t take away from the game,” said Eddy Danielsson, Gamestop’s director of merchandising, marketing and e-commerce for Northern Europe.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on July 25, 2016.

Yes, pray, but also travel for Nice

France is yet again in mourning after the horrific attack in Nice on Bastille Day, which left at least 84 people dead and 200 injured. One Irish man was left in a critical condition but has since stabilised.

The motive for the attack is still unclear, even though ISIS has claimed that it inspired it.

There have been contradictory reports about the assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who is not thought to have been radicalised. So far, there is nothing to verify that this was an extremist attack. His intention was to kill as many people as possible, but probably not on behalf of any militant organisation.

Regardless, his actions will be a cause of alarm for security officials. Even in France’s state of emergency, which has been extended by at least three months, the nature of the attack was unprecedented. Weaponising a truck infringes grossly on our freedom to travel and celebrate public events in other countries.

Security will become more of a hassle than it already is for tourists, with heightened levels of anxiety and more pressure on already overworked gendarme and military officials. Armed police will have a more visible presence, which will unsettle some visitors. It will be enough to convince many people to defer their travel plans and stay at home—even Irish citizens, who are among the most well-travelled in Europe.

But who benefits from that kind of reaction? We must defy barbarism by properly evaluating risk. We should not let fear unnecessarily dictate our freedom to explore the world.

Around 200 Irish people die abroad each year. Even in light of Thursday’s awful tragedy, travellers are still more likely to die from things that would have killed them at home anyway, such as underlying heart conditions, rather than murder.

We should travel with the same amount of precaution as ever: Follow travel advice given by the Department of Foreign Affairs; be aware of local laws and customs; have an emergency contact for the nearest Irish or EU embassy; and make sure you have bought travel insurance.

Be wary, as well, of reports from mainstream media. Many outlets were quick to report the attack as an act of terror, even before there was enough information to verify the assailant’s motives.

According to UNWTO figures, France is the world’s most popular travel destination. And rightly so. There is so much to love about France, so why should we let an act of hate control our desire to visit it?

Irish Examiner: Cork has potential to deliver growing space for startups

Co-working has become an attractive alternative to traditional offices, but entrepreneurs say that there is a need for development of the practice in Cork City.

Daniel Ramamoorthy— founder of The Treehouse, an organisation that offers co-working space and advice to entrepreneurs in Dublin— helped set up the Revolution Workspace in the Penrose Wharf business centre.

“Cork is actually a hotbed of incredible innovation,” Mr Ramamoorthy said, and “is leading the charge in Ireland in areas like synthetic biology, in particular.”

Mr Ramamoorthy, who advised the former government on policymaking for entrepreneurs, said that “there is a need for more co-working in Cork” to capitalise on these innovations.

“I get emails from people all the time who are in Cork and want to move to Dublin because they believe their business will grow faster there,” he said.

“I think it’s because they don’t see a good landing space in Cork. I think that if there was a more visible landing space for startups, more Cork startups would stick around because there would be a resource for them to continue growing.”

Without a major co-working hub, a number of smaller spaces have opened across the city. Fergus Murphy, manager and founder of the Plus10 space, became a co-worker by accident.

“Myself and another crew were developing a travel software site,” Mr Murphy said.

“We needed space for a couple of programmers. When we went looking, all that was there was very expensive stuff for short-term [use].”

Mr Murphy had access to a building on South Main St and decided to make it his base. After a while, one of the developers on his team suggested opening up the space to other startups.

“It just kind of grew from there, to the point where we have 17 desks occupied most of the time,” he said.

‘Cork is behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.’

One of the benefits of operating out of a co-working space, Mr Murphy said, is discipline.

“The idea of working at home is very practical initially,” he said, “but it’s very hard to work in isolation.”

The social side of co-working helps entrepreneurs avoid being “captured by your comfort” and overlooking flaws in their business, he said. The open space allows them to bounce ideas off other workers and share problems or worries.

“There’s a pool of different talents and skills there,” he said.

Mr Murphy, who spoke at last year’s Co-working Europe Conference in Milan, believes Cork lags other European cities in development of co-working spaces.

“Ireland is a bit behind the curve,” he said. “Cork is significantly behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.”

Mr Ramamoorthy agrees, but believes Cork could become one of the top 10 startup cities in Europe.

“Ireland in general ranks very high as a startup hub,” he said. “Cork as a city is not yet. But I think it’s fast on the heels of becoming that, specifically because of the collaboration between investors, accelerators, the local enterprise office and the universities. I think that network is absolutely important in building a good startup ecosystem.”

But it is not just startups that are attracted to co-working. Established companies have learned that the practice is not just about physical space, but a culture that promotes entrepreneurship and creativity.

“We have mature practices that have been much bigger in the past and had to scale down,” said Patrick Creedon of Magee Creedon Kearns architects, which set up Gate Design House on North Abbey St.

“They’ve discovered now that they don’t have to have the big overheads of taking on a whole space by themselves and yet they have a sense of scale in terms of the shared space.”

Both Gate Design House and Plus10 have been approached by large organisations, some of which already have substantial offices in Cork, looking to rent their spaces.

“I’ve had cases where big companies have been working on a project but maybe they wanted some lateral thinking,” Mr Murphy said.

“They want to come out of the office environment and into a more creative environment.”

As work becomes more flexible, Mr Creedon predicts a rise in demand for co-working. “One or two individuals can do so much more now than five or six individuals could do in the past,” he said.

Companies “don’t want their hard-earned cash going into bricks and mortar. They do want to be in an environment that is pleasant and attractive and buzzy.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

5 steps to building your own brand newsroom

 

Just so we’re clear, I absolutely believe that there should be a clear distinction between journalism and advertising.

But as branded content comes back in vogue (the practice has actually been around for quite some time), I think PR and communications teams should think seriously about how they communicate their messages.

If someone is going to advertise to me, I want to be offered something of sustenance, not just a command to buy a product or a lifestyle. And I should know exactly who has paid for that content—slap a big advertorial banner on top of the piece.

With that in mind, here are my five tips for building a brand newsroom:

1. Hire the talent—or mine it

There is an increased demand for information and quality content. In order to generate meaningful stories, you’ve got to have a team of cracking storytellers with a nose for news and a sense of branding.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have the luxury of hiring a batch of journalists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your current PR team a shake-up.

Be bold—create a new role as chief storytelling officer and make that individual responsible for keeping your brand narrative on-track and on-trend.

2. Find your content crossover

Look for the crossover between what your brand wants to say and what interests your audience. All of your successful stories exist in that space.

Look at your area of expertise, find a topic of interest, then own it. Just like mattress start-up Casper launched Van Winkle’s and owned the topic of sleep. What topics does your team knows better than anybody else? Remember, anything can be interesting if you find a way to make a good story out of it.

3. Connect creators with your sales team

Branded content does not necessarily have to create a direct revenue stream, but aim to generate a sale or make some kind of connection with every story your brand newsroom shares.

Your content team should liaise with your sales team throughout the week. See what leads the sales team is trying to attract and generate content that will entice them to your brand.

4. Have a ton of ideas ready to go

At the beginning of each quarter, put together a host of story ideas that reflect your sales target for the period.

The walls of MediaHQ’s newsroom is covered with post-its with clear, concise headline ideas. That way, our team can peel one off the wall and knock out a 300-word post in the half an hour.

5. Look for openings

Don’t underestimate the power of traditional media. Syndication will help generate brand recognition. Write an op-ed on behalf of your company’s CEO and submit it to a Sunday paper. How about offering an insightful listicle to an industry magazine? Why not pitch a package to feature on a radio programme or podcast?

Your brand newsroom should act as a wire service between established media and your organisation. If you can offer them quality content—not god-awful ad copy—they will gladly give you the publicity.

A version of this article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

Press releases: Here’s what you’re doing wrong

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

There is nothing more frustrating that crafting a press release that goes nowhere.

Some stories make the news, some stories don’t. It’s an unfortunate fact. Sometimes the elements are just against you—but other times, you may have dropped the ball.

Here’s what you could be doing wrong:

It’s a misfire!

We’ve said it lots of times on the MediaHQ blog: You always have to do your homework before sending a press release to a bunch of journalists.

You have to be sure you are targeting the right people: Unless it’s relevant, don’t send an education story to a beauty columnist. It’s sounds like PR For Dummies, but you would be amazed at how many misfired press releases land in journalists’ overcrowded inboxes every day.

Our research team updates our contacts database on a daily basis to ensure our clients don’t send their press releases to the wrong journalists.

There’s just no story

Unless you have a story to tell, nobody will pick up on your release.

Journalists are expected to inform and entertain the public. They are all about the story so your press release must be newsworthy and must have a clear lead.

Press releases should be written in the style of a news article: Eye-catching headline, strong introductory paragraph with detail in following paragraphs. Remember the five Ws of your story and use the inverted pyramid.

You’ve used jargon

Journalists are trained to be cynical. They are always painfully aware that a PR pro is trying to promote an organisation or a range of products.

Nothing turns a journalist off a story more than a press release laced with exaggerations and jargon. Don’t oversell yourself. You may consider it industry lingo, but to a journalist it is just a load of marketing guff.

You want to interest them in your story, so the story is main concern.

Your quote is unbelievably dull

This is the part of all press releases where PR pros truly get to show off their creative side.

Quotes can breathe life into a press release. They add the human element to your story, which always interests journalists.

If you are battling with a difficult approval process, tell senior management that you believe it is better to seek forgiveness than ask for approval (something of a motto at MediaHQ). They should trust their PR team to do their job and trust that you will maintain your CEO’s integrity—and ensure they get their voice heard in the media.

3 tips for pitching through Twitter

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

There are now more ways than ever to communicate with a journalist—but that doesn’t mean they are more likely to pick up your pitch.

If a particularly influential reporter likes to hang out on Twitter, why not reach out to them there rather than through their overflowing inbox?

Here are three tips for pitching through Twitter:

1. Show some interest

Follow the reporter in advance of tweeting your pitch. That way they will know you are serious about sharing your story idea and aren’t just spamming every journo in sight.

Try to engage with them beforehand as well—like some of their tweets; comment on a couple of posts. Show some genuine interest in their work.

2. Go public

If you tweet ‘.@username’, your pitch will be visible to other Twitter users, so even if this particular journalist isn’t interest, another reporter might spot the tweet and take you up on it.

Equally, remember to do your usual research before reaching out—a journalist might publicly call you out if you tweet them a totally irrelevant story idea.

Check what topics they tend to cover, look at who they are following and scroll through their likes. This should give you a good idea of what they are interested in.

3. Follow-up—but only once

If the journalist doesn’t respond to you within a reasonable time (this depends on the shelf life of your story and how active the reporter is on Twitter), there is no harm in sending a courteous follow-up tweet.

If they don’t respond on Twitter, don’t email them the same pitch with a follow-up email, followed by a pitch via LinkedIn messenger with yet another follow-up.

There’s a reason you chose to contact them through Twitter—if they didn’t get back to there, they won’t respond anywhere else.

 

Dublin Inquirer’s bold step into the world of print

Previously online-only newspaper Dublin Inquirer announced that it is launching a monthly print edition.

Readers are invited to subscribe for as little as €5 per month, with the first issue expected to roll off the press by April 8.

Print as additional revenue

“It’s hard for online publications that are weekly to make enough money from online ads,” managing editor Lois Kapila says, “we always knew we’d have to look at other ways to make money.”

Print was seen as a viable way to make additional revenue.

“I talked to local publications in different cities and villages around the world,” Kapila says, ”lots think a weekly or monthly [print] edition is a good way to bring in money and give readers something else.”

A paper version also makes sense because many of the online features—some of which are up to 4,000-words long—boast a long shelf life.

Old school distribution

The print edition is “kind of a cross between a magazine and a newspaper”, Kapila says, with a “newsy feel” fitted to a visually-pleasing magazine layout. She describes it as a “modern newspaper”, with lots of images printed on high quality newsprint.

The Inquirer team themselves will be in charge of distribution and—with an echo to the heyday of print—newspapers will be dispersed through five coin-operated news boxes (pictured above).

If you are interested in subscribing to the Dublin Inquirer print edition, click here.

Listen to my interview with Lois on The Stack, Monocle24‘s dedicated print analysis show.

5 magazines that prove print ain’t dead

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

With our researchers constantly updating our database of over 7,500 journalists, the MediaHQ team watches Ireland’s media landscape evolve day-by-day—literally.

While there are some people who relish in the demise of print—perhaps a touch of schadenfreude for hacks who scoffed at the rise of online media—we still have a soft spot for good old-fashioned ink on paper.

If you’re looking to brighten up your desk with a stack of mags, check out these five beauties.

1. We Are Dublin

we are dublin, magazines

Popping off the press every three months, We Are Dublin showcases a mixture of long form features, fiction and poetry, coupled with beautiful photography “dedicated to the city”.

We Are Dublin has been described as “a new breed of travel magazine”, it explores undiscovered parts of the city—and sheds new light on familiar places like this essay on the M50.

The magazine is available in select stockists around the world or you can buy online.

2. The Gentlewoman

the gentlewoman

A celebration of the modern woman, The Gentlewoman “offers a fresh and intelligent perspective on fashion that’s focused on personal style”.

The biannual magazine has a distinct voice that we just love, which creates a feeling of being part of a welcoming club, with enlightening conversation and inspiration.

A dash of glamour and oodles of edge, The Gentlewoman is a joy to peruse and always dons a striking portrait on the cover (Kirsten Dunst features on the spring/summer 2016 edition) . You can pick up the latest copy here.

3. Zeit Magazin

zeit magazin international

If you somehow manage to get your hands on the English-language version of Zeit Magazin, cherish it. This is not an easy find.

A collection of translated articles originally published in Die Zeit’s weekly supplement, as well as a few exclusives thrown in for good measure, Zeit Magazin offers intelligent content and clever design.

The latest edition celebrates 70 years of Die Zeit newspaper, one of Germany’s most respected broadsheets.

Of course, Zeit Magazin didn’t exist 70 years ago, so the editors decided to imagine what the magazine would have looked like had it been published in 1946.

They went whole-hog on this one—even the crossword are time-relevant. A brave and creative idea, brilliantly executed.

4. Rabble

rabble

Okay, so Rabble isn’t a magazine, it’s a newspaper. But there are still lessons to learn from the publication.

With a clear political agenda, Rabble is a bold, raucous and colourful freesheet put together by a community of volunteers.

The paper’s mission is to “create a space for the passionate telling of truth, muck-raking journalism and well aimed pot-shots at illegitimate authority”.

It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is always refreshing and wonderfully illustrated.

Find back issues here.

5. Delayed Gratification

delayed gratification

Proving not only that print isn’t dead, but also that long form journalism is very much alive, Delayed Gratification—a brilliantly clever title, by the way—completely dismisses the concept of a breaking story.

Revisiting news stories that have disappeared from the mainstream agenda, the slow journalism magazine values “being right above being first”.

You can learn all about Delayed Gratification’s slow journalism movement in editor Rob Orchard’s TED Talk.

What are your favourite magazines? Share them with us—@mediahqnews.

MediaHQ.com is Ireland’s largest and most dynamic media intelligence company, with contact details to more than 7,500 journalists in Ireland listed on our database. Since we started in 2009, we have helped Ireland’s best known brands connect over 100,000 stories with the media.