Author Archive for Andy Wilkinson

Your Latest IT News Update

Featured Article – The End of Life … for Windows 7 …  is Nigh

Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, introduced in 2009 and only intended to upgrade windows in the wake of the much-disliked Windows Vista finally reaches its end of life date on 14 January 2020.

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Google To Offer Bank Accounts

Tech giant Google is crossing over into the banking world by partnering with Citigroup to offer ‘smart checking’ accounts (bank current accounts) next year as part of its ‘Cache’ project.

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New Brave Browser: Blocks Ads, Pays Rewards

The new 1.0 browser from Brave removes ads and ad trackers and pays users through a reward system for viewing the ads that Brave presents.

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Despite Patches, Researchers Warn That Intel Chips Are Still Vulnerable

The New York Times has reported that despite Intel issuing patches for security flaws (that were discovered last year) in its processors, security researchers are alleging that the processors still have some serious vulnerabilities.

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Research Says Memes Can Tell Between Humans and Bots

Researchers from the University of Delaware have concluded that when it comes to authentication for logins, Memes may be one of the strongest techniques to distinguish between a human and a bot.

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Tech Tip – Save a Web Page as a PDF

Sometimes, when researching online, it’s helpful to be able to collect information in a form that can easily be printed out, so here’s how to save a web page as a PDF from three popular browsers:

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The End of Life … for Windows 7 …  is Nigh

Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, introduced in 2009 and only intended to upgrade windows in the wake of the much-disliked Windows Vista finally reaches its end of life date on 14 January 2020.  Looking back, it was an unexpected success in many ways, and looking forward, if you’re one of the 39% of Windows users still running Windows 7 (only 44% are running Windows 10), you may feel that you’ve been left with little choice but to move away from the devil you know to the not-so-big-bad Windows 10.

Big Success For Microsoft

Evolving from early codename versions such as “Blackcomb”, “Longhorn,” and then “Vienna” (in early 2006), what was finally named as Windows 7 in October 2008 proved to be an immediate success on its release in 2009.  The update-turned Operating System, which was worked upon by an estimated 1,000 developers clocked-up more than 100 million sales worldwide within the first 6 months of its release. Windows 7 was made available in 6 different editions, with the most popularly recognised being the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions.

Big Improvement

Windows 7 was considered to be a big improvement upon Windows Vista which, although achieving some impressive usage figures (still lower than XP though) came in for a lot of criticism for its high system requirements, longer boot time and compatibility problems with pre-Vista hardware and software.

Some of the key improvements that Windows 7 brought were the taskbar and a more intuitive feel, much-improved performance, and fewer annoying User Account Control popups. Some of the reasons for switching to Windows 7 back in 2009 were that it had been coded to support most pieces of software that ran on XP, it could automatically install device drivers, the Aero features provided a much better interface, it offered much better hardware support, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 could handle a bigger system memory, and the whole Operating System had a better look and feel.

End of Life = End of Support = Danger

After looking back at the successes of Windows 7 it seems a shame to have to focus on the impending ‘end of life’ on 14 January.  End of life isn’t quite as final as it sounds. Windows 7 will still run but support i.e. security patches, will no longer be available for it.

For Azure customers, the Windows Virtual Desktop does still mean that there’s the option of an extra three years of extended support as part of that package, but there may be some costs incurred in migrating to the cloud service.

Yes, ‘Extended Security Updates’ can be also purchased by customers with active Software Assurance for subscription licenses for 75% of the on-premises annual license cost, but this should only really be considered as a temporary measure to ease the transition to Windows 10, or if you’ve simply been caught out by the deadline.

Embracing the Positive

It may even be the case that in the process of worrying about the many complications and potential challenges of migrating to Windows 10 you haven’t allowed yourself to focus on the positive aspects of the OS such a faster and more dynamic environment and support for important business software like Office 365 and Windows server 2016.

Planning and Time

In order to maximise security and finally get round to taking the plunge and migrating to a new operating system, it’s worth noting that IT project deployment can be slow, some remedial work may be required in the transition, and you will need to make sure that you have identified any issues that you have in your environment.  This means that although the deadline is technically a couple of months away, there will be the interruption of the Christmas and New Year break to consider, and it may be wise to allow yourself enough time to gather all the information and to plan the project so that everything goes smoothly.

What To Do Now

The deadline to end of support/end of life for Windows 7 is just around the corner, but the stats show that, if you’ve not yet done your homework and planned your move of Windows 7, you’re not alone.  Ideally, a slow and measured approach to an upgrade of this kind and scale would allow enough time for planning and for the smoothest of transitions. Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of time and although there are some possible OS alternatives to Windows 10, these could bring their own challenges and risks that you may not yet have considered.

For most businesses then, there is a realisation that the threat of no more support means that continuing to run Windows 7 presents a real risk to the business e.g. from every new hacking and malware attack that comes along after January. If you choose to upgrade to Windows 10 on your existing computers, you will need to take into account factors such as the age and specification of those computers, and there are likely to be costs involved in upgrading existing computers.  You may also be considering, depending on the size/nature of your business and your IT budget, buying new computers with Windows 10 installed, and in addition to the cost implications you may also be wondering how and whether you can use any business existing systems or migrate any important existing data and programs to this platform.

One thing is clear: if you’re still running Windows 7, the time to act is now.

Google To Offer Bank Accounts

Tech giant Google is crossing over into the banking world by partnering with Citigroup to offer ‘smart checking’ accounts (bank current accounts) next year as part of its ‘Cache’ project.

Partnering, Not Self-Branding

Google is reported to be prepared to rely heavily on the knowledge of Citibank partner in the project and will not be self-branding the accounts. Google will, no doubt, be grateful for the guidance of its partner through the complicated regulatory aspects of banking.

Other Tech Companies Too

Google’s move into the finance world follows that of competitor tech giants, some of whom have experienced a bumpy ride in banking territory such as:

– Facebook developing its own cryptocurrency called Libra which has recently suffered the departure of big names from the association of organisations that was set up to run the currency – PayPal has dropped out with Mastercard, Visa, and digital payment platform and processor Strip soon to follow.

– Apple introducing its own credit card, the ‘Apple Card’ in the US in partnership with Goldman Sachs and with processing by Mastercard.  The card system operates through the Wallet app on iPhone (iPhone 6 and later), but Apple soon suffered criticism that the physical titanium card that accompanies each account would be vulnerable to damage by everyday material surfaces such as denim and leather, thereby rendering potentially impractical.

– Amazon offering credit card and business loans, with a view to boosting its own e-commerce business.

– Uber Money offering credit cards, debit accounts and money tracking tools to help the company with its own taxi operations.

Why?

Like other tech companies, Google’s massive customer base and widely recognised brand mean that it can leverage this power through brand extension.  Google knows that by simply supplying more of peoples’ needs online, often by strategic alliance, it can stay competitive, and find new users and new opportunities.

Privacy & Trust Worries

Some technology commentators have, however, have expressed worries that giving tech companies access to our financial information could mean that they know too much about us, and may be tempted to share data with (or sell that data to) their advertising arm or other organisations.

Although Google has said that it will not be selling or sharing its account holders’ financial data just as it doesn’t share data from its Google Pay service with advertisers, there has been a recent report that Google may be able to gain access to personal medical data of up to 50 million Americans through its partnership with the healthcare giant Ascendant.

Resea

Research has indicated that consumers are likely to trust Google with their financial affairs.  For example, a study by McKinsey & Company revealed that 58% of people (surveyed) said they would trust Google with financial products.

UK BoE Governor

Back in June UK BoE Governor, Mark Carney offered tech companies and all payment providers the chance to store funds overnight in interest-bearing accounts at the central bank and appeared to be adopting an “open mind but no open door” approach to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It was more or less inevitable that the reach and brand power of tech giants, who are already trusted with many personal aspects of our lives would mean that they want (and would be able) to move into the world of our personal finances too.  The move may be a win/win for both the financial partners (who can learn how to upgrade the tech of their service) and the tech giants who can find out even more about us and can become even more essential partners to us in all parts of our digital life.

The damage to trust, however, caused by Facebook’s sharing of harvested user data with Cambridge Analytica has left some people with reservations about trusting tech companies with too much of our personal data.

New Brave Browser: Blocks Ads, Pays Rewards

The new 1.0 browser from Brave removes ads and ad trackers and pays users through a reward system for viewing the ads that Brave presents.

Brave?

Brave is a San Francisco based start-up company, founded in 2015 and led by CEO Brendan Eich, formally of Firefox.

Ad and Tracker-Free

Two of the key advantages of the new Brave browser are that it protects a user’s privacy by removing ad trackers and makes browsing a faster (download time) and less distracting experience by removing adverts.

Displays Its Own Adverts and Pays You For Viewing Them

The big difference about Brave is that it offers its own Brave Rewards system. Users who join the system only see adverts from Brave and are paid 70% of the resulting ad revenue using Brave’s own crypto-token, the Basic Attention Token (BAT).  Brave also sends the revenue you accrue back to the websites you’ve visited.

The advantages of this system should be that it can lure new users to Brave in a crowded browser market with the promise of money and a better browsing experience and improved privacy and that websites can still find a way to support themselves with advertising without having to share the personal data of users with tech companies.  The hope is that, if this browser and model gains user approval on a large-scale it will eventually deter publishers from trying to profile the behaviour of their users via privacy-invading trackers.

Earnings

Users who sign-up to the Brave Rewards system can choose where to direct the BAT they’ve earned e.g. send it certain sites, tip Twitter and Reddit users or choose to convert it into currency (which is unlikely to be a large amount).

Numbers

There are some very well-established players in the Browser market which is currently dominated by Google Chrome which has more than 65% of the market (around 2+ billion installs).

In comparison, Brave says that it is used 8.7 million times each month on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. The company has, however, reported that the number of users is growing by 10% per month.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Privacy is a big concern for all web-users and trying to download web pages that are full of adverts can be a frustrating and a time and power-draining experience. Businesses also need to be able to use the tools available to them to make sure that they can get the maximum ROI from their advertising spend, plus the big tech companies need to be able to offer their business customers an ad system that delivers results, hence the perceived need for trackers and profiling the behaviour of customers.  Web publishers also need to have a viable way to help support their sites and offer content to their users (without a payment gateway) and this has traditionally been through advertising on their pages, much to the frustration of website visitors.  Brave’s browser, therefore, tries to meet the needs of all these groups in one package.  The combination of improved privacy, financial incentives and better browsing experience may prove appealing to users, and publishers may take note of the Brave model and realise that there is another way of supporting their sites. It remains to be seen, however, how much share of the browser market Brave can gain and how well it fares against some powerful and entrenched competitors.

Despite Patches, Researchers Warn That Intel Chips Are Still Vulnerable

The New York Times has reported that despite Intel issuing patches for security flaws (that were discovered last year) in its processors, security researchers are alleging that the processors still have some serious vulnerabilities.

What Flaws?

In January 2018, it was discovered that nearly all computer processors made in the last 20 years contained two flaws known as ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’. The 2 flaws could make it easier for something like a malicious program to steal data that is stored in the memory of other running programs.

Meltdown, discovered by researchers from Google’s Project Zero, the Technical University of Graz in Austria and the security firm Cerberus Security in Germany, affects all Intel, ARM, and other processors that use ‘speculative execution’ to improve their performance; i.e. when a computer performs a task that may not be actually needed in order to reduce overall delays for the task (a kind of optimisation).

Meltdown could, for example, leave passwords and personal data vulnerable to attacks, and could be applied to different cloud service providers as well as individual devices. It is believed that Meltdown could affect every processor since 1995, except for Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013.

Spectre, which affects Intel, AMD and ARM (mainly Cortex-A) processors, allows applications to be fooled into leaking confidential information. Spectre affects almost all systems including desktops, laptops, cloud servers, and smartphones.

8 More Flaws Discovered

Then, in May 2018, 8 more security flaws in chips/processors were discovered by several different security teams.  The new ‘family’ of bugs were dubbed Spectre Next Generation (Spectre NB).

September 2018

According to reports by The New York Times, the Dutch researchers (at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) also reported a range of security issues about Intel’s processors to the company in September 2018 and provided Intel with a proof-of-concept code to help them to develop fixes

14 Months On – Only Some Fixes

It has been reported that after waiting 8 months to allow Intel enough time to develop fixes (of which only some have issued), and more than a year after providing Intel with a proof-of-concept code, Intel has only just announced the issue of more security updates earlier this week.

More Vulnerabilities

Unfortunately for Intel, just as they announced the issue of new security fixes last week, the researchers notified them of more unfixed flaws, and it has been alleged that Intel asked the researchers to alter the report about the flaws and to effectively stay quiet about them.

MDS

The latest unpatched flaw in Intel processors that the researchers from Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany and Austria have gone public about is a hacking technique, which is a variant of ZombieLoad or RIDL (Rogue In-Flight Data Load). The technique which exploits a flaw in Intel processors is known as microarchitectural data sampling (MDS) and it can enable hackers to carry out several different exploits e.g. running code on the victim’s computer that forces the processor to leak data.

Criticism

The news that there may still be flaws in Intel’s processors after the company appears to have had a long time to fix them has prompted some criticism of Intel online, some of it reported in the New York Times e.g. allegations  that there has been a lack of transparency about the issue from Intel, that the company has tried to downplay the problems, and allegations that Intel may not decide to do much to fix the problem until its reputation is at stake.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Bearing in mind that these flaws are likely to exist at the architectural level in the majority of processors, this story is bad news for businesses that have been legitimately trying to make themselves totally compliant with GDPR and as secure as possible from attack.

For the time being, in the short term, and unless processor companies try to completely re-design processors to eliminate the flaws, closing hardware flaws using software patches is the only realistic way to tackle the problem and this can be a big job for manufacturers, software companies, and other organisations that choose to take that step. It is good practice anyway for businesses to install all available patches and make sure that they are receiving updates for all systems, software and devices.

The hope is now that researchers can put enough pressure on processor manufacturers e.g. through bad publicity to make them speed up their efforts to tackle the known security flaws in their products.

Research Says Memes Can Tell Between Humans and Bots

Researchers from the University of Delaware have concluded that when it comes to authentication for logins, Memes may be one of the strongest techniques to distinguish between a human and a bot.

The Bot Challenge

One of the great challenges to websites when it comes to authentication for logins is that software bots can fool relatively simple tests such as ticking a box to say, ‘I’m not a robot’ and CAPTCHA (both words and images). Also, neural networks and machine learning have helped to train bots to behave more like humans.  With more than half of web traffic believed to be made of bots and to stop bots gaining easy access to sensitive data, correct authentication needs to be based upon a system that can effectively tell humans and bots apart.

Memes Could Be The Answer

According to the University of Delaware researchers, the dynamic nature of memes and the fact that bots don’t get cultural references and online humour, and that humans are familiar with and can understand memes with a greater depth than bots could mean that memes could be the answer to the ‘bot or human’ authentication challenge.

Memes are activities, concepts, catchphrases, or pieces of media, often humorous and/or mimicking, and commonly in the form of an image, gif or video that have cultural meaning and tend to be shared widely on social media platforms.

How Could Memes Work For Authentication?

According to the researchers, after the correct username and password have been verified on login to a website, a meme could be displayed with a question about the meme that relates to something that bots wouldn’t be able to spot.  For example, this question could relate to the facial expression of the person in the meme or to the action taking place in the meme (bots wouldn’t be able to accurately tell what the facial expression is or what it means in relation to that meme). Several possible answers relating to that meme could be given and clicking on the right option will mean that a person is granted entry to the website.

The fact that there is a vast number of memes available online means that the meme and its answer options used for one authentication process can then be deleted from the database to ensure that no answers are stored and learned by bots.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With more than half of web traffic being made up of bots, and with bots being able to fool many existing systems and with the data security, privacy and fraud risks that bots pose, businesses need to know that their websites have an effective system that can accurately distinguish between humans and bots at the login stage, but not make the process of authentication too complicated or lengthy for registered users.

The cultural references, humour, and subtleties in memes could, therefore, make them an effective way to make that distinction, and could keep businesses ahead of the game until AI/machine learning in bots necessitates another change.

Tech Tip – Save a Web Page as a PDF

Sometimes, when researching online, it’s helpful to be able to collect information in a form that can easily be printed out, so here’s how to save a web page as a PDF from three popular browsers:

Google Chrome:

– Top right (three-dot icon), choose ‘Print’ (or use Ctrl + P)

– In ‘Destination’ choose ‘Change’

– In ‘Select a Destination’, under the heading ‘Print Destinations’ choose ‘Save as PDF’

Work through the preview options and select ‘Save’

Microsoft Edge

– Choose ‘Print’ (top right of the browser) or Ctrl + P

– Under the ‘Printer’ drop-down menu select the ‘Microsoft Print to PDF’ option

– Go through the other options (margins and scale) and select ‘Print’

Firefox

– Use the Windows 10 Microsoft Print to PDF function

– Press Ctrl + P to display the print menu

– Select ‘Microsoft Print to PDF from the printer options, and click on ‘OK’

– Select name and save location and click on ‘Save’

Safari

– Under ‘File’ choose ‘Print’ (or Command + P)

– Select ‘PDF’ from the left-hand corner of the window

– For a basic save, select ‘Save as PDF’.

Your Latest IT News Update

Scale of Police Computer Misuse Uncovered

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request made by think tank Parliament Street has revealed that 237 serving officers and members of staff have been disciplined for computer misuse in the last two financial years.

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$20 Million Fight Highlights Value of Social Media and PR

The popularity and influence of two YouTube celebrities making their boxing event an all-time global Top 20 pay-per-view phenomenon and splitting a $20 million prize is a reminder of the magnifying value of online PR.

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Google Announces New ‘Teachable Machine 2.0’ No-Code Machine Learning Model Generator

Two years on from its first incarnation, Google has announced the introduction of its ‘Teachable Machine 2.0’, a no-code custom machine learning model generating platform that can be used by anyone and requires no coding experience.

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‘Moore’s Law’ and Business Innovation Challenged By Slow-Down In Rate of Processing Power Growth

Many tech commentators have noted a stagnation or slow-down period in computing-related to ‘Moore’s Law’ being challenged, but has the shrinking of transistors within computer chips really hit a wall and what could drive innovation further?

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Microsoft Edge Gets Business Upgrade

Billed as “the browser and search engine for business”, Microsoft’s new Chromium-powered version of Edge (and now more serious competitor to Google’s Chrome) is set to be released in January with new business-focused capabilities.

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Tech Tip – Snip & Sketch

If you need to be able to quickly grab areas of your screen, annotate them and share them, Windows 10 has an easy to use Snip & Sketch app.

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Scale of Police Computer Misuse Uncovered

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request made by think tank Parliament Street has revealed that 237 serving officers and members of staff have been disciplined for computer misuse in the last two financial years.

Sackings and Resignations

The FOI request, which was responded to by 23 forces also revealed that 6 employees resigned and 11 were sacked over failures in adhering to IT best practices e.g. for disclosing personal information.

Took Photos of Screen and Shared

In Hertfordshire, two incidents out of 16 disciplinary cases involved employees taking photographs of the screen of a (confidential) police computer system and sharing those photos via social media.

Most Cases

The most individual computer misuse incidents were recorded by Surrey Police with 50. Second in the misuse ranking was the Metropolitan police where 18 people were disciplined (4 were accused of misusing social media) and one staff member was sacked for misusing the Crime Reporting Information System.

Greater Manchester Police managed to take the third position in the incidents rankings with 17 for misuse of force systems.

Other Incidents

Other incidents uncovered by the FoI request included 3 officers getting sacked from Gwent Police (for researching the crime database for a named person, disclosing confidential information, and for unlawful access to information) and 3 getting sacked form Wiltshire Police force for using the police databases without lawful access to the information. Also, one member of Nottinghamshire Police was disciplined for using the police computer system to search for information about a civil dispute they were involved in.

Case In July

These incidents were reminiscent of the case from July this year whereby a serving Metropolitan police officer was given 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay £540 after pleading guilty to crimes under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, which included using a police database to monitor a criminal investigation into his own conduct.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

We all must adhere to data protection laws (GDPR) and best practices to ensure that company computer systems are used responsibly and legally.  The irony of the information uncovered with the FoI request is that hundreds of those persons who are entrusted to uphold and enforce the law appear to be prepared to risk their jobs, break the law and betray public trust.  The fact that hundreds of police have been caught (there may be many more who haven’t) misusing police systems which contain large amounts of sensitive personal data raises serious questions about privacy and security.

This may indicate that police forces need to offer more education and training to employees about data protection and the correct (and legal) use of police computer systems as well as tightening up on monitoring, access control and validation/authorisation.

$20 Million Fight Highlights Value of Social Media and PR

The popularity and influence of two YouTube celebrities making their boxing event an all-time global Top 20 pay-per-view phenomenon and splitting a $20 million prize is a reminder of the magnifying value of online PR.

What Happened?

Two of the world’s leading YouTube celebrities and ‘Generation Z’ heroes Logan Paul and Olajide “KSI” Olatunji followed up on their 800,000+ pay-per-view, £2.7 million earning 6-round boxing match from last year at Manchester Arena with the repeat bout at a Los Angeles basketball arena.  This time, after their fight in the early hours of Sunday morning they were able to split $20 million made from 2 million+ pay-per-view purchases generated from their combined 40 million subscriber fan-base.  Neither of these YouTube celebrities is a boxing professional and their fight was in stark contrast to that of two World Champions, fighting on the same bill, who were “only” paid less than $1 million.

Social Media Power & PR

The world’s biggest YouTube celebrities and social influencers, such as PewDiePie (102 million subscribers), Dude Perfect (47.1 million subscribers) and Badabun (43 million subscribers) are mainly young people who have managed to build a relationship with their generation audience by posting YouTube videos.  Generation Z subscribers (born between 1996-2010) who have grown up with the Internet and social media, and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) make up large parts of the subscriber audiences. Interestingly, in the case of boxing, this represents an opportunity for promoters to tap into a massive new audience who may not be familiar with the sport.

Even though these influencers may appear to be strongly linked to a generation that they have an innate understanding of (by being part of it) what they are essentially doing is leveraging public relations – building relationships with different publics, building their own credibility and raising their own visibility – on a grand scale. YouTube is simply the media and part of the message that allows them to achieve their PR aims.

PR Often Overlooked By Businesses

The power of PR to business is often overlooked in favour of apparently easier to understand advertising and measuring of responses, and rather than dismissing the kind of influence that some young people have via social media as a generational mystery that doesn’t apply to you, recognising that the value-adding use of PR is within the reach of all businesses is important.  So, what can PR do for your business/campaign/cause/event?

  • As YouTube celebrities show, influence is something that PR can achieve. Your own expertise and inside knowledge of your business and industry can be a valuable and persuasive asset in your messages that can make you appear to be a trusted and objective source.
  • Finding or creating an interesting and compelling story with a link to your products, services and brand can mean that the ‘reach’ of your message is increased as different outlets and channels pick up on it and share it.
  • The cost-effectiveness of your advertising can be dramatically increased when combined with PR.
  • The search engine optimisation (SEO) of your website can get a real boost from PR as you receive more visitors to your website and more shares of your story on social media and on other websites, and more links to your website thereby giving your rankings a boost for important key phrases.
  • Getting your own feature in an important publication can be a great way to attract investors and new customers as it strengthens your credibility.
  • Talented people such as potential employees and businesses as potential strategic alliances can also be attracted by good PR about your organisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The boxing event was not a demonstration of sporting expertise and prowess, but of the power of influence gained through social media and PR.  This event showed that business (and something that’s arguably greater than the sum of its parts) can be generated through paying attention to the building personal brands and online relationships with specific audiences which, over time, can generate its own momentum. One of the key messages for businesses to take away from this is that PR opportunities already exist all around and tapping into them could be a cost-effective way of boosting the power and reach of your messages.  This may be something that has been overlooked in your promotional mix but could make all the difference.