Brunswick Review Issue 2

Careful, It’s On The Record!

Text and video are the internet media of choice – but audio’s time is coming and it could be scary.

It’s been a tough week and as a senior executive at MegaCorp you are looking forward to a little downtime on the plane home. Walking through the departure terminal, a smiling stranger approaches and strikes up a conversation.

Initially, you are flattered that she has recognized you as the boss of a company with thousands of employees. But within seconds she is launching into a bitter attack on you, your company and its business practices.

Your patience snaps. You hotly dismiss the allegations, offer an unflattering description of your critics and send your assailant on her way with a few choice expletives. You think nothing more of it.

Eight hours later when the flight lands, however, you are at the center of a global media frenzy. Every word of the altercation is now available online and calls are ringing out for protests, product boycotts and even your immediate dismissal.

The scenario just described may yet be the stuff of airport bookshop fiction. But with hundreds of thousands of people around the world installing AudioBoo, the free iTunes application launched in March 2009, the threat is already all too real. 

AudioBoo, developed by London-based bestbefore.tv and dubbed “social audio”, allows users to record up to five minutes of high quality audio on their iPhone and upload it almost instantly to a website where the file is date-stamped and geo-tagged to the location where the recording was made.

Plugged into the trademark white Apple headphones, nothing distinguishes a covert AudioBoo recorder from a music-lover or an iPhone user making a hands-free call. Practically anyone therefore can become an investigative journalist or activist where the rules of “on or off the record” conversations are irrelevant. Everything is now “on.” 

Notwithstanding the risks for the unwary, AudioBoo is an application that executives can also use to good effect. The main take-up so far has been from musicians, celebrities and news organizations that want to embed audio clips into their online news stories, and the BBC and the British Library hope it will enable the public to augment their sound archives. But the opportunity for business is also exciting. One retail CEO we know is using the opportunity of a charity run to visit regional outlets and send “on the spot” reports from the scene via the AudioBoo application to colleagues. The potential to provide real-time feedback from meetings and visits to an internal audience (uploading to a private server) has yet to be tapped. 

In the meantime be prepared for conversations with a stranger sporting a pair of those tell-tale headphones. Keep answers to those “difficult” questions front of mind and if you are not familiar with the allegations being made, show that you care enough about them to take the person’s details and arrange for their grievance to be addressed. And finally, spread the word. You, your boss and your employees all need to understand the perils of careless talk.

Andy Rivett-Carnac is a Client Advisor and Senior Producer at Cantos, which specializes in business communications via video or online.