Image: Jane Rygaard (left) Cathrine Torp and Kim Larsen take questions from the audience

What is an algorithm and why should we care? The third stop-off in the EACD debate series took place in Copenhagen on Thursday August 31: it considered a topic less frequently discussed by communication professionals, who tend to leave data analysis and KPIs to their marketing colleagues.

Anders Rendtorff, EACD regional lead and Associate Partner at Relationspeople, opened the discussion with an introduction to the European Communication Monitor, the research project in collaboration with EUPRERA. The 2017 study revealed that the majority of European communicators do not actively follow the debate surrounding social bots, and even considered them to present ethical challenges. Over 85% did not plan on introducing automated software to their organization in the near future. How would the panelists, coming from innovative organisations, respond to this bleak forecast?

According to Kim Larsen, Head of Communications at Danske Bank, these new technologies offer a lot of opportunities for communicators to better understand customer and other stakeholder based on their actual behavior and thereby to become much more relevant, targeted and efficient. However, there are also a number of ethical questions that need to be addressed, and the role of corporate communicators is to lead the conversation about the ethical dimensions of data use, belives Kim. Communication directors have a "big responsibility to understand and drive the technology",  an especially urgent priority in a world where algorithm-generated echo chambers make it hard for corporations to have fact-based conversations with stakeholders.

 

Jane Rygaard, Head of Marketing Nokia, shared Kim's ethical concerns about the use of data. Almost everyone in the room carries a personal tracking device at all times in the form of a smartphone. But, argued Jane, we’re past the point of caring about privacy because we willingly share our data via wifi, geo-tagging and apps. The discussion should now focus on how to use the mass of data for good, and consider how it is shared and corroborated. Crowd control and emergency response could be more effectively coordinated via data tracking. Using smart cities as an example, Jane visualised joining various touch points such as traffic lights and connected cars, while noting that with great data comes great responsibilty for its proper use.

Cathrine Torp, Vice President and Head of Marketing at DNVL Oil and Gas, brought her marketing expertise to bear on the conversation. Cathrine delved into the limitations of using data to target audiences (she used the example of a chief financial officer who has a financial interest in news about deteriorating oil pipes, an interest typically undetected by the data), asked whether algorithms will soon take over our jobs (they can make good decisions and analyse behaviour, even write text) and suggested how algorithms could be used to distinguish between fake and real news. While also cautioning against blind faith, Cathrine emphasised the power that data has to move the marketing and communications function in a more strategic direction.

 In the question and answer session, the debate took a turn towards internal communications and employee engagement: the panel answered questions about the use of data gleaned from employee behaviour as a tool for engagement...

… but in keeping with the event’s theme of dangerous data, several audience members held that data encourages corporates to demand too much engagement – too much input, too much time, too much personal energy – from their employees.

Clearly, data is a double-edged sword, and we all – communicators and audiences alike – have to tread carefully when using it.

Our thanks to Kim Larsen and the entire Danske Bank team for their generous hosting of a wonderful event.

If you were not able to attend the event or wish to review it, we invite you to watch the recording of the live stream panel debate - special thanks to Axion for this service.

Rachel Proctor is part of the EACD Coordination Team.