Don't get left behind
Is your company keeping up with the latest technology innovations? The clever firms are, and they're getting easy access to a huge audience
How do you use technology to help you start a business? How do you protect your brand and your intellectual property online? How do you use social media to promote your firm but not leave it open to abuse?
These questions and more were posed and answered at the first ever TechXplore expo at Ridell Hall in Belfast last week.
The event, aimed at encouraging businesses, the public sector and entrepreneurs to embrace digital technology, was organised by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and PR firm MW Advocate in partnership with global derivatives exchange CME Group.
Associate partners included Invest NI, Belfast law firm Mills Selig and accountancy firm KPMG.
David Levin of Mother London, on his first speaking engagement on the island of Ireland, told the audience of the panel 'Social media – back to the future' that he essentially tweets for a living, and stressed the importance of "finding your voice" on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
A freelance writer and social media pioneer, he has worked for some of the biggest names in UK entertainment like BBC One's The Voice, Channel 4 and Radio 1 and brands such as Adidas and MoneySupermarket.
What's more, he started by tweeting about a pub.
"I was bored and started doing a Twitter feed for a pub I used to live next to called The Dolphin," he said.
"That changed my career and had a big impact on the pub, and the many customers who started following it on Twitter. I got The Dolphin trending worldwide, alongside the Nobel Peace Prize!
"Research has shown that tweeting as a character can make it much easier – people prefer to follow other people rather than faceless 'things'.
"Timing is critical on Twitter. Tweeting exactly at the right moment is a key to success, but lots of brands are still getting this wrong.
"A lot of brands are cottoning on and have realised how important Twitter and Facebook are and how they have impacted on sales and some employ teams of writers to look after their feeds.
"If you look at Skittles – their tweets are surreal. Betfair Poker has a team of comedy writers and does a lot of topical jokes, not always about betting, but they have a huge following.
"Tesco has been very bold with their strategy, tweeting about 'hitting the hay' in the midst of the horsemeat scandal.
"Some brands take it to another level and we see how important it can be to have a successful tweet related to a big event. During events like the Super Bowl in America, which commands £1m for a television advertising slot, brands create War Rooms with writers and agencies waiting for something to happen to put a spin on it.
"During this year's Super Bowl, the lights went off suddenly, and within four or five minutes the biscuit brand Oreo had tweeted a picture and something like 'you can still dunk Oreos in the dark' – it was re-tweeted thousands of times and was exposure that would have cost the company millions to buy.
"Interaction is important. There was a case where an angry customer contacted 02's customer services feed and the company chose to respond in a street slang style similar to his own. It went viral and was covered in magazines and newspapers, it got coverage for 02 worldwide that would have costs thousands of pounds.
"You need a definite tone of voice and you need to focus on consistency, enter topical conversations and use the platform in a creative way."
He added that even when things do go wrong, any publicity is good publicity.
Recent cases include disgruntled HMV staff hijacking the official company Twitter page when they learned they were to be fired, and a recent hack into the page of fast food giant Burger King.
"Someone recently hacked into Burger King's Twitter feed and changed the profile pic to one of McDonalds and tweeted some awful things," he said.
"But people are not stupid, the followers knew it wasn't right, Burger King attracted more followers because of it, and so much interest was generated that people began to wonder if Burger King had done it on purpose."
Also debating social media was Alan Schoenburg, executive director for corporate communications with the Chicago Merchantile Exchange Group.
"Markets and traders focus and survive on information," he said.
"Traders are the original social networkers. Social media has changed the way we interact with each other, clients and customers and has changed our jobs whether we are in sales, public relations, or human resources. It has changed the way we look at things and communicate. As an economist, I follow trends and issues, I can follow what all the other exchanges are doing, what banks are doing, what customers are doing.
"People want to communicate with other people, whether that's about entertainment, finance, cookery or the media."
Also on the panel was Lisa Clancy, communications director for the GAA, who faced the challenge of taking a traditional, hierarchical organisation and bringing it into the 21st Century.
She added of Twitter: "It's a clean way to communicate, it's a channel and you're in control. If you're not part of it, you'll be left behind."
During another session entitled 'Legal, moral and societal impacts of technological change', speakers debated how to protect both the individual and the brand from online attacks.
Emma Hunt, director at leading commercial law firm, Mills Selig, Emma Hunt advises on issues of defamation and privacy law and has represented many media organisations including broadcasters and newspapers, both local and national.
She has acted in cases involving international social media companies and regularly advises a broad range of clients on this newly emerging area of law.
The firm was involved in a recent case where three employees of a Belfast company were awarded £35,000 in damages after an anonymous social network troll wrote abuse about them on Facebook.
However, the money will only be paid out if the identity of the person behind the slurs can be revealed.
In February Mr Justice Joseph McCloskey said there must be consequences for abuse of social media.
Writs were issued by the company, two directors and a member of staff last year after a series of messages and information about them was posted on Facebook.
Ms Hunt spoke to the audience about online defamation and advised firms to have a solid social media policy and for bigger businesses to appoint a social media officer.
And the headliners were...
• Vincent Breslin, Co-founder of www.siansplan.com
• Ronan Perceval, CEO & Founder, Phorest
• Mark Bennett, Executive Director, CME Group
• Lisa Clancy, GAA Communications Director
• David Levin, Mother London
• Alan Schoenburg, CME Group
• Colm McGoldrick, Founder and CEO, Mail Distiller Ltd
• Richard Dale, Crafty Devil
• Dermot Walsh, CEO Whisple
• Paul Hollway, KPMG
• Jim Gamble, CEO INEQE
• William Crawley, BBC
• Emma Hunt, Mills Selig
Gamble: Don't give in to fear factor
Jim Gamble is the founding chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on Child Protection and Child Trafficking, and the founder and initial Chair of the Virtual Global Task Force, an international collaboration to make children safer online.
He said that the fear factor scares people and makes them the miss opportunities that can be afforded them by technology.
"Technology doesn't hurt people, people will use the technology available to them to do what they want to do.
"Good people will do good things, bad people will do bad things," he said.
He added that companies and individuals needed to embrace change and use technology to educate and empower rather than seeing it as a negative.
"Don't get amnesia, remember who you are, where you are and what you are doing," he said.
"You're better in than out."
He added: "Technology is a fabulous thing.
"The internet is just a public place."
'Geek' praises our hi-tech talent
Mark Bennett is the executive director and general manager for Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group's Belfast operations and a certified geek.
With more than 25 years' experience on both the hardware and software side of technology, he says he can frequently be found surrounded by gadgets or poking around in any computer he can put his hands on. He said that the wealth of technological experience in Northern Ireland was one of the key reasons for the company to establish a base here.
"Our company is all about innovation and creativity and I am very interested in the connections between science and technology," he said.
"When you look at the markets, you see that innovation has been paramount to our success and innovation is the lifeblood of CME.
"One of the things that attracted us to Belfast was that the digital infrastructure here is really exceptional and was one of the selling points. Even more important was the access to the skillset and talent in Northern Ireland."