Know your numbers.


Did you see the fitness app, Strava, that released its data as a “fun” infographic heatmap showing all the activity of its users (in the macro) around the world?

No big, right?

Except that the info ended up showing the locations of active, and secret, military bases around the world, including streets and perimeters, and where major workout and gathering points are located. There’s apparently even one lone bicyclist who helpfully did an entire circuit of Area 51. Oops.

The US military missed limiting the use of these apps…in fact, even green lighted the use of fitness apps. Strava also didn’t consider the information as anything more than high-level and non-personal–yay marketing!

The important thing here is to remember this isn’t an outlier or an exception to the rule. How things like technology, “big data,” and even infographics communicate can be a bit “Wild West” at the moment. Meaning no one really knows how to safeguard against what they don’t know about the data, so they’re just doing whatever they want and hoping for the best.

Inform, But Protect

Here are the top three lessons we would tell our clients:

  • First, don’t be afraid of information or communicating with numbers, just be careful. Transparency and openness are still key to building trust with audiences.
  • Make sure you are looking at data from all view points for potential hazards that might inadvertently hurt you OR you customers. Think about pulling in multiple viewpoints beyond your team or department.
  • For big organizations, and public agencies in particular, make sure you really understand the new technologies and trends you are using. This is not only important for good communications, but, potentially, critical to the safety and security of your employees and customers.

Communications isn’t easy, but don’t go full-blackout either. And, if you don’t feel comfortable navigating the field, find a partner who specializes in knowing this stuff.