How far will too far be in the pursuit of stakeholder insights?

I spoke at an event recently where I threw out a not-too-far-fetched scenario to a room of professional communicators.

Your brand (I notionally nominated an airport) was in the grips of a crisis — perhaps a fatality, chemical spill, terrorist attack — I’ll let you consider something more suitable to your business.

The media had picked up on the issue, coverage was being reported across radio and social media, the screeching wheels of the TV networks’ vans can be heard in the car park — hopefully your crisis planning and training is kicking in and you’re handling the issue as sensitively and professionally as you can.

As will be familiar to most large organisations, media and social monitoring will be in place — “what are people saying?”

But what if you really knew what people were saying about you — perhaps behind closed doors? In the Internet of Things (IoT) era, our devices certainly have the capacity to listen to our conversations and I’m surely not the only one who has been served an online advert, related to a discussion I’ve had with someone in earshot of my phone?

Now, while the unknowing collection of private data should unquestionably be outlawed, could we imagine a future where the airport in my scenario could purchase data insights from a tech giant, plotting relevant conversations taking place in homes, workplaces, etc. in real-time?

What if conversations centred on a particular aspect of the crisis that wasn’t being communicated, allowing the airport to react and provide additional commentary where they could?

In this scenario, the matter of gender, specific locations and names (private information) wouldn’t be required. Simply knowing what was resonating with your audience and what wasn’t would offer a living and breathing focus group on a mass scale.

There will of course always be the doubt on what information is being recorded. The technology we use today should require triggers to record sound waves — “Hey Alexa, what’s my local news?” and the court of public opinion will rightly hold any tech giant to account if, without an individual’s knowledge, their devices were listening all the time and recording every word, let alone attributing that information to a name and location.

With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also carrying more legal weight than that of public opinion, organisations must be very sure of what data they are collecting.