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AI technology is undoubtedly on the rise, but adopting it without a clear communications strategy can also compromise your company's reputation. Beth Chaplow explains how.

Posted on Tue 14th Jan, 2020 in: Blogs by Beth Chaplow

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already a big part of our lives, even more so than we might imagine. Algorithms enabled by AI software already have a part to play in the way that we consume news, where we shop, and how we use social media. However, the use of AI is often met with suspicion by those unfamiliar with it, prompting visions of a world run by despotic robots who have every individual’s darkest secrets on file.

AI can encompass a broad range of different technologies, however, in our day-to-day lives these tend to fall under the umbrella of machine learning technology. This refers to the use of algorithms and models that are used by computers to perform a specific task without using instructions. The application of machine learning can vary from the use of virtual personal assistants such as Siri, Google Home and Alexa, to face recognition technology on social media, to customer support assistants when online shopping.

With its increasing popularity AI technology is becoming relevant for a variety of sectors outside of the news, marketing and e-commerce worlds. From Alexa in your home, to fraud detection in the insurance sector, to surgical robots in the medical field, AI is becoming ubiquitous in the Western world. Its growing prevalence prompts us to ask whether AI is a worthwhile tool for companies to adopt as part of their workplace practice.

There is no straightforward answer. AI’s added value is hugely dependent on how it is used by a business, as well as a given company’s transparency surrounding their use of such technology. A tech giant such as Google may be praised for its use of machine learning algorithms to create personalised spam filters for your email address, whereas when Cambridge Analytica was accused of using AI to swing political elections through Facebook, the use of AI prompted serious and legitimate fears for the security of personal data.

In stark contrast to Google’s relatively innocuous use of AI, Cambridge Analytica created staggeringly detailed classification models in order to appeal not only to supporters of a given political party, but also to directly target what it had determined to be their unique personality type. Cambridge Analytica therefore was able to alter the political advertisements that it displayed to Facebook users to make them more compelling to specific voters.

Cambridge Analytica did not display any transparency when it came to their methods of data harvesting. The resultant scandal damaged both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s reputations, but the latter’s was damaged irrevocably. Facebook’s share price plummeted, while Cambridge Analytica closed its operations in 2018, citing insolvency problems as its reason for doing so. On the other hand, Google’s transparency regarding its use of machine learning algorithms helps to prevent against an erosion of user trust.

The adoption of new technological processes will pose risks for any business, particularly when the use of said technology is accompanied by the risk that people’s personal data will be compromised. The effect of scandals such as that involving Cambridge Analytica means that, trust around AI processes is currently low. As PR professionals then, a clients’ choice to adopt AI should be factored into how we plan and execute its communications strategy. The decision to invest in AI is not one that should be taken lightly, due to the potential for reputational damage that it carries with it if used improperly. It is therefore important to ensure that the use of AI is factored into any communications planning.

Critical to this will be encouraging maximum transparency in its client’s outgoing communications. The greater the level of transparency, the more empowered a consumer or user will feel in making the decision to continue supporting a given company and its use of AI.

At Aberfield, our approach is to prioritise audience insight, ensuring the suitability of a communications plan for a brand’s target audience before actioning anything. AI could pose potential financial and reputational risks for companies, should they neglect to think carefully about how they use this tech, or fail to ensure they continue to protect their reputations by communicating with customers in a fair and accurate way.

If they manage their communications correctly however, companies could reap the rewards of their open channels of communication by attracting new customers who are appreciative of their transparency.

It is important that communications strategies around AI implementation are geared towards proving AI’s benefits for a company’s customers, rather than simply for the company itself. There is a risk that organisations may wish to implement AI because they believe it will be financially beneficial, rather than because they have spent time considering the ways in which consumers or users will benefit from AI technology.

For some companies, AI is almost prohibitively expensive to set-up, meaning that there is a real risk that companies can waste large amounts of money attempting to improve processes that will have no tangible impact on their users. To yield the desired results, AI must be used contextually, and always with a target audience in mind. There is nothing wrong with using AI to improve internal operations and processes, but unless audiences feel as though this technology is simultaneously benefitting them, it will be near impossible to convince them of its value.

How to make sure your company’s AI strategy works for your audience: the three Cs.

-        Clarity: Ensure that your company is as transparent as possible on how AI will be used. How will data be used and collected? How will this data be protected? How will AI enable companies to further improve consumer satisfaction? These are all questions which need to be answered publicly if you are considering adopting AI.

-        Context: As with the above, it’s important that the use of ai is considered in its context. Consider whyyou think that using AI technology will help to further your business. If your motivation for adopting AI is to make your company appear more competitive or profitable, you are probably not using it for the right reasons. It’s not the technology itself that is important, but the impact that it has on your stakeholders.

-        Consistency: If your company states that it will be using AI for a specific purpose, ensure that you can keep this promise. If, for example, your company decides to use AI for customer support chat-bots, but then it emerges that AI technology is also being used to collect sensitive personal data, then you are likely to run into problems. Your customers will feel deceived, and the transparency that you’ve taken pains to establish can disappear in an instant.

By following the three Cs, you will not only be able to maintain brand integrity and ensure consumer loyalty, but also potentially attract new customers who are drawn in by technological innovation. Adopting AI technologies can cause a communications nightmare but ensuring that you have a clear and straightforward strategy will make all the difference.

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