Securing a Website with an SSL Certificate is More Important than Ever Before

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More than a billion web users’ personal information was stolen by cyber hackers in 2018. While large companies appear to be the victim of the vast majority of attacks, small business websites are proving to be an attractive target for cyber criminals looking to find an easy pathway to the riches that can come from the fraudulent use of everyday consumers’ personal financial information. While the level of illegal intrusion leveled-off last year, security experts are warning that recent advancements in website security measures may be doomed to the insistent and persistent improvement in hackers’ ability to adapt to the new security improvements.

Not unlike burglars who pass by homes with obvious security systems for an unprotected target, cyber criminals are turning to small business websites that fail to take even the most basic security actions to protect customer data. While the past two years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of websites taking actions to protect customers’ personal information, more remains to be done. The number of websites supporting HTTPS over encrypted Secure Socket Layer (SSL)/TLS connections has skyrocketed over the past year. Recent studies reveal that over 50 percent of web traffic is now encrypted. “Many sites need to catch up to avoid the ‘Not Secure’ warnings,” said DigiCert chief product officer Jeremy Rowley. “We urge IT administrators to check the sites they look after and deploy the appropriate TLS certificates.”

Perhaps the greatest incentive for website owners to gravitate to HTTPS protocol is coming soon from Google. With the release of Chrome 68 later this year, the search engine leader will mark all sites that haven’t adopted HTTPS as “Not Secure”. All other secured sites will continue to be displayed with green https letters in the URL, which means they are secured by an SSL certificate. Google will also give websites with encrypted connections a slight rankings boost. Imagine the number of website visitors who will be reluctant to frequent a company’s site when they are confronted with an “unsecure” warning. The consumer demands for increased web security is on the rise and consumer awareness of cyber security victimizations is heightened. It has been predicted that the Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla search engines will likely follow Google’s direction.

Research conducted by Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm, found that 87% of internet users will not complete a transaction if they see a browser warning on a web page and more than half of respondents indicated they would seek to complete the purchase on a competitor’s secured website. SSL certificates have been available for decades but many website owners have delayed activation due to the perceived high cost and complications of implementation.

The cost associated with migrating to HTTPS and its significant benefits to a web owner is quickly becoming more affordable. Many hosting providers are offering free SSL certificates to clients. With “trust” becoming an important factor in the marketer/consumer relationship, a “secure” banner across the top of a company’s website is an indication that the site’s owner shares their customers’ concern for data security.

It’s Time to Play the March Madness Advertising Game

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Unlike 2018, the big NCAA 2019 basketball tournament event is not burdened with the pressure of battling clean-up. March Madness 2019 is predicted to set a new record of $1.36 billion in advertising spend, continuing an upward tradition since 2013. The NCAA Men’s Division I Final Four will be hosted by the city of Minneapolis, and is predicted to generate $142 million in economic impact for the area and attract 94,000 visitors to the U.S. Bank Stadium.  “In terms of impact, visitor spending is only one way to think about success,” says CEO Kate Mortenson, NCAA Final Four Minneapolis Organizing Committee. While the city looks forward to the promise of an economic windfall, a list of international brands is gearing up for an opportunity to promote their wares to the millions of college basketball fans who will be tuning in to the weeks-long event leading up to the big game.

The NCAA has announced that this year’s tournament will be streaming across 15 platforms in an effort to keep pace with a more mobile viewing audience. Mobile experiences will be very important to fans and advertisers will need to heed the viewers’ continued gravitational pull away from traditional cable and broadcast channels. The most successful brands will be those that connect all the channels into one cohesive campaign that brings basketball fans together with the brand.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will continue to build relationships between fans and brands. Official March Madness social media handles generated 26 million social engagements across these popular channels last year. Marketers will need to prepare ahead in order to capture prolonged customer attention.  “It’s about speaking to the audience, whether they’re preparing for their bracket or starting a competition with friends and family. And it’s about thinking of the length of time you’re spending with consumers,” says Courtney McKlveen, VP and Industry Lead of Retail, Travel and QSR at Yahoo. “ The word ‘loyalty’ is fun to throw around, but it still exists. In order to build loyalty, it takes time, and it means being there throughout the shopping cycle, and having the confidence to think about your ROI differently.”

Casual-dining brand Buffalo Wild Wings is launching its “That’s March Madness” TV spots and digital ads urging viewers to visit its restaurants to watch the tournament. In addition to their usual broad selection of brew and spicy wings, the 1,200-unit Buffalo Wild Wings chain is rolling out custom-designed “Jewel Stools” in Los Angeles and New York City. “Man caves and technology have divided us, conquered us and allowed a part of our herd to be divided,” says Scot Crooker, associate creative director at The Martin Agency, Buffalo Wild Wings’ advertising agency. “Sports is about finding your tribe.”

Whether you choose one or all of the available channels, there are more ways than ever for a brand to engage with an audience during March Madness. While the digital play provides social analytics that can generate immediate message effectiveness, display and sponsorship advertising often requires an incubation period following the performance to measure success or failure. It’s time to establish a strategy and tip off your best effort to connect with our nation’s college basketball fans.

Adopting Graphic Trends in Website Design to Boost Brand Success

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The results of a recent survey by Tyton Media is stressing the importance of website design in how customers perceive a brand. The survey indicated that 48 percent of people name website design as the biggest indicator of a company’s credibility. Website users are more likely to trust, remember, and connect with the brand if they find the website design consistent with the brand’s message and relevant to the brand’s reputation. Poor or irrelevant designs can alienate potential customers and create a negative impression. More than 80 percent of users who experience a poor web design will not return and are lost forever. So what design elements are trending in 2019?

Like fashion, popular designs tend to repeat themselves over time. What was fashionable in the past often reappears after falling out of favor. Amid the rise of 3D graphics, blogs, case studies, infographics, bold coloration, artificial intelligence and the predicted reemergence of hand-drawn graphics, simplicity is finding its reemergence into effective website design. The concept of “less is more” is finding renewed favor with designers and developers in 2019. Creating simple and concise messages that get straight to the point can be the most effective way to engage your audience. While simplicity makes a comeback, bold statements with bright color and gradient designs are trending up.

Today’s users are in a hurry, and “instant gratification” remains in vogue.  Websites have a narrow threshold of opportunity to attract, capture and move customers to initiate the buying decision. Removing unnecessary clutter, bells and whistles will help users navigate information and find the solutions they are seeking.  In the coming year, asymmetrical design is predicted to become a trend in order to attract a viewers’ attention. An unbalanced approach may just set a brand apart from the competition.

The use of animated GIFs and bots are finding their way into web designs at a greater pace, allowing for increased user convenience, more instant responses to customer inquiries and the ability for marketers to more directly target messages to consumer issues. Simpler layout, increased use of white space, flat design and clean practical aesthetics will premier.        Adapting to trending designs and using them to differentiate your brand and message will help cut through all the digital noise and set your brand apart from the competition.  To learn more about how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) professional team of designers move your brand ahead of the competition, call 678-686-1125 today.

Marketers Help Distribute Oscar Gold at the Academy Awards

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The Academy Awards have been an entertaining promotion of the movie industry for decades. At its peak, the 3-hour distribution of the golden Oscar to the industry’s best performances captured millions of viewers and generated unprecedented hype for cinema performers, directors and technicians. The once high viewer ratings have diminished over the past two years due to falling interest in a program that has strayed beyond its stated mission and into the critical arena of politics and overt promotion of controversial social issues.

The prediction for the 91st edition of the Academy Awards was dire at the program’s debut but the ABC TV network managed to garner a record $2.6 million for a 30-second advertising spot on the 2019 program. ABC sells more advertising on Oscar Sunday than any day of the year.

This year’s major brands included:  Google, McDonald’s, Verizon, Walmart, Cadillac and Walt Disney. Nike used the platform to launch a powerful, female-focused “Dream Crazy” campaign, fronted by tennis legend Serena Williams. Embarrassed by a failing sneaker worn by its spokesman basketball star in Duke University’s loss to North Carolina the previous week, the iconic brand needed a big win to erase the memory of that debacle from consumers’ minds.

“The Super Bowl is over. It’s mid-February,” Jeff Greenfield, chief operating officer of C3 Metrics, a media measurement company, said in a recent interview. “I am Walmart. My competitor is Amazon. Where can I go and compete against Amazon on what is essentially a global stage and get reach today? It’s the Oscars. … For a brand like a Walmart, they have to be there.” Despite a falling viewer audience, ABC will rack-up more than $150 million from this year’s event. Apparently, falling attendance and program ratings are having little effect on those brands that are willing to pay a premium to share the world’s entertainment stage.

The once “don’t mix politics, religion and controversial social issues with business” mantra that guided advertising for centuries is quickly being abandoned as marketers perceive changing trends in consumers’ favor for socially conscience brands. Providers of major entertainment like the National Football League (NFL) however, are learning that the diversion from focusing on the quality of the entertainment to the promotion of controversy has its limits with a diverse consumer audience. Going forward, promotors of programs like the Academy Awards may want to temper the rhetoric of controversy and refocus on awarding favor to artistic performance if they want to advance their own brand to a more diverse community of consumers.

This year’s ratings bump was welcomed after years of declining interest among viewers but the impact of the increase may be short lived, or not. The fact remains that the Oscars televised event with all its tarnish still attracts a reliable but fractured viewing audience. For brands looking to reach that audience, the Oscars ceremony continues to be an important venue to promote.

Lower the Number of Abandoned Shopping Carts with Improved User Experience

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In the beginning, that time when the internet was this shiny new thing whose intention was often misunderstood and which was capable of disrupting accepted norms in conducting business and social interactions, website design focused mostly on the technology and all the gee-whiz things a talented techy could command new digital devices to perform. The vast majority of business managers and leaders had only a passing fundamental knowledge of the technology and an even more limited appreciation as to how it all would revolutionize the seller/consumer relationship. The focus initially and for some period of time was on the technology; the science of making it all function consistently and dependably. Today, the importance of user experience, one of many new terms to be added to language dictionaries around the world since the introduction of digital communications, is still misunderstood in many digital marketing arenas.

“User Experience or the UX basically compasses all the details of end-users’ interaction with the brand, its products, and its services,” says Don Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things.” Getting user experience right is critical to an online retailer’s ability to close the sale. Getting it wrong will result in increased online shopping carts left abandoned. Shopping cart abandonment refers to visitors leaving an online store without purchasing the items in their online carts.  Recent studies by Baymard Institute show that 69.89 percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts.

Online shoppers are accustomed to having thousands of choices from online sellers who are out to satisfy consumers’ increasing desire for convenience. Their expectations of service are fueled by sellers who have made it their mission to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts. Eliminating even the smallest obstacle to consummating the purchase decision is critical to achieving sales success.

Simplicity is a hallmark of any successful user experience. Consumers are by nature impatient. The process of creating and managing a customer profile must be as simple as possible. Managing customer profiles, address and payment details and tracking purchases are all fundamental to a well-formed user experience. Pages should load quickly and correctly across various devices, functionality should be consistent and dependable with little need for consumers to experience utilization problems. Focus functionality on consumers’ expectations and create a journey from research to the implication of purchase that is seamless and personal. A great user experience will build brand loyalty and result in repeat customers eager to make additional purchases.

Does your website’s user experience need some enhancements? Contact the web design specialists at Junction Creative Solutions today to learn how we can help you lower your number of abandoned shopping carts.

Implement an Effective Narrative to Better Connect the Message to an Audience

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“Once upon a time,” who doesn’t remember this opening sentence? It is famously known as a preamble to a story whose purpose is to grab attention, teach an important message, and impart an unforgettable impression on the listener or to compel them to take action. Storytelling is part of all our lives.  From our earliest memories stories have been fundamental to understanding just about everything. A medium, when well performed, takes the often mundane specifics of a subject and transforms them into a narrative that is interesting and impressionable to the listener. Imagine for a moment attempting to explain to a four-year-old the concepts and importance of building a strong and comforting abode that will survive the dangers of a foe with a menacing nature. Behold the narrative, “The Three Little Pigs.”

Storytelling is not new. It’s a supportive foundational block in our ability to communicate effectively. It utilizes emotion and empathy to inform and motivate, to explain complex as well as simple messages. In this fast-paced, digital communicative environment, storytelling is becoming increasingly important to marketing efforts. Shortened sound-bites, mini moments and mega-blanket messaging have become all the rage among digital advertising, but the impact of the message is being lost amongst all the noise. Advertisers are returning to the art of storytelling to complete a more comprehensive and effective connection with its audience.

Eric Danetz, Global Chief Revenue Officer for AccuWeather, says, “High-quality, authentic storytelling is critical in today’s fragmented media environment.  With noise and competition for consumer attention and brands targeting for greater personalization and impact, storytelling becomes key to establishing an emotional connection with your audience. In terms people and businesses can relate to, storytelling illustrates how a brand will meet customers’ needs and in turn, builds loyalty.”

With all the attention garnered by the technical aspects of digital media and as the proliferation of multiple social channels continue, the increasingly shorter time spans in digital communication is driving consumers to distrust brands and avoid fact-based, feature-and-benefits methods of messaging. When performed properly, storytelling is combining art, creativity, psychology and data to create improved marketing campaigns. Consumers are interested in being entertained by a message, being educated and motivated by an experience and in messages that engage with them emotionally and personally.  Old school marketing tactics are finding new life with consumers who are tired of the incessant barrage of digital media noise.   

Successfully merging the art of storytelling into today’s digital marketing environment requires an understanding of the techniques of storytelling and an investment of time and resources to implement an effective narrative that connects with consumers.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions’ creative team of professionals can help tell your story, call 678-686-1125 today.

Hey Siri, What’s Up with Voice Search?

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In 2014, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, predicted that “In five years’ time at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.” Like the discharge of the starter’s gun at a track and field sporting event, the futurist picked up the quote as if it were an absolute certainty. But as with all predictions the likelihood of certainty is tempered by a healthy amount of those things that are out of the control of even the most enlightened among us. After all, if an early prediction by a well- known global climate change enthusiast would have been accurate, a large number of us living along the east coast of the United States would be living in sea water by now. It is not to say that the predictions of weather or technology won’t still become reality; it’s that the time frame of “sooner or later” may be more accurately realized.

The good news is that the predictions of voice search overtaking the key punch method will most certainly come to pass. The bad news is that the next generation will miss out on typing lessons, learning the art of cursive and creative writing classes. In the end, technology and science and speech lessons will prevail. The time-curve may be drawn by user’s acceptance of the technology, the measure of its importance in their lives and the user’s accessibility to the gadgets, both hard and soft, that will be required to implement voice commands dependably. As it has come to pass in the past, technology will prevail.

Regardless of whether it is 30 percent or 50 percent, 2019 will be the year that voice search commands will significantly change the landscape of internet search. “Voice-only search allows users to browse the web the Internet and consumer information without actually having to scroll through sites on desktops and mobile devices.” Voice search drastically improves the search experience for users. Speaking in short, simple phrases users can expect that their message is received and acted upon with only an occasional, “sorry, I don’t understand” reply. The smart marketer will begin to move their investment in SEO to voice optimization in the coming year in order to improve their brand awareness and online revenue. It is expected that voice search eCommerce will rise to $40 billion by 2022, and whether we are likely to get our feet wet by the rising tide or become drowned in almost total submersion still remains to be seen. So how soon do we divert greater amounts of our marketing budgets to implementing voice search?

Brent Csutoras, digital marketing consultant and Managing Partner at Search Engine Journal says, “This space is going to open up, it is going to provide an opportunity for just about everyone, so stay abreast of what’s happening in this space, watch the technology, and start envisioning your company in that space, and then wait until you have that opportunity to make that a reality. But don’t overstress yourself and feel like you’re failing because you’re not in the space right now.”

Select Your Marketing Partner Wisely

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Selecting the right marketing agency to connect a business to its market is critical to meeting the goals and objectives of any business. Too often the importance of evaluating and measuring the fitness of an agency to the specific business takes a back seat to the pop and wow of an agency’s public persona. Overlooked are the factors that are often most essential to building a working and mutually beneficial relationship between a marketer and their chosen agency.

Building a relationship with a marketing agency is as important as forming a relationship with a vested business partner. Trust, transparency, confidence and a demonstrated understanding of your business is critical. The chosen agency should share your passion and be overtly committed to achieving your marketing objectives. “Many agencies make a pitch based on the ‘big idea.’  Although the ‘wow’ factor is important, seamless execution is critical to the success or failure of any client relationship,” says Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner of Junction Creative Solution (Junction).  “At Junction we are as passionate about process as we are about the creative. Our clients not only expect it but appreciate our diligence.”

A good agency should be able to relate to the goals and objectives of its clients and have the capability to scale any project to meet the expectations and the client’s budget. Flexibility is important to be able to adjust to the dynamics of any market, and experience counts. Does the agency have a proven track record in your industry or a comprehensive understanding of how to adapt successful efforts across a wide spectrum of industries?

The successful candidate will enthusiastically provide client references. Is the agency’s own website and marketing collateral consistent with their proposals? Do they walk the talk? In digital marketing, understanding and demonstrating a high degree of competency for technical aspects of digital communication is a must for any proposed marketing strategy.   In this fast-paced competitive environment, it’s critical to remain ahead of trends, to demonstrate significant capabilities and to provide award-winning performance for your projects whether a brand logo or a comprehensive set of solutions to support sales and marketing.

“With the rise of solopreneurs and marketing consultants, it’s difficult to discern the good from the bad.  With more than 20 years of experience in the marketing space, we’ve experienced the dot com era, the introduction of mobile, social, and all things digital,” comments Gareleck. “The experience and learnings from the last 2 decades give us a unique experience when assisting our clients.  The medium may have shifted but the principles of performance based marketing are the same. We focus on delivering against the goals and objectives of our clients.”

The successful candidate should not only have demonstrated expertise, but should also be someone who can relate to your vision and have the ability to evoke confidence and work with you in meeting projected expectations. Be wary of those who over-promise and over-simplify. Successful marketing strategy takes time and constant tweaking. Choose your marketing team wisely. Choose one who’s experienced in coordinating a total marketing journey from the design and development to engagement and beyond.  To find out more about how Junction can partner successfully with your business, call (678) 686-1125.

Opportunity Awaits Small Businesses that are Optimistic Enough to Brave the Journey

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A recent Federal Reserve forecast for 2019 proposes that the U.S. Economy will grow 2.5 percent in the coming year and inflation will be checked at 2 percent. Such a prediction only a few years ago would have been thought to be the ranting of an overly optimistic and controversial student of economics, or the position statement for a largely discredited, naïve, want-to-be politician.  At the start of this New Year, perhaps the least surprised entity among the business community is small business. Cut from the same cloth of optimism, small businesses in America account for 2 out of every 3 new jobs created.  With unemployment at the lowest level in decades (some predict it could set a record low in 2019 of 3.5 percent), it would appear that the optimists are winning the day.

The accepted thought among a majority of business soothsayers is that the coming year is the best time for those optimistic entrepreneurs to engage their plans and open their dream businesses. The reality is that no one can promise success for anyone venturing into business at any time. While 2018 was generally considered a positive tipping point for small to mid-sized businesses, just over half said operations performed better over previous years, and less than half were willing to venture a prediction of continued growth in 2019. Despite all the positive economic indications, there remains just enough room around the edges of everyone’s crystal ball to manifest a degree of doubt about the size of the expected fortunes to come for small business owners.

Most vulnerable are new and emerging businesses that lack the time to establish a sustainable base in which to weather any downturns in market performance. To survive and prosper, small entities will need to be focused on adopting strategies that gravitate towards growth in 2019, regardless of temporary fluctuations in the economy. Experienced entrepreneurs are painfully aware that failure lurks in the economic shadows occupied by those factors that are just beyond their control. A profound and sustained focus on technology, finance, marketing and public policy will be of paramount importance going forward.

“Customers today have more choices than ever, and they have shown they will gravitate toward those who prioritize the delivery of fast, seamless and personalized service. This is true whether they are ordering lunch, getting their car repaired or making a financial transaction. In my industry of financial services, we’ve already seen large legacy companies start to fall behind smaller startups who offer better user experiences,” says Bernardo Martinez, U.S. managing director at Funding Circle.

Another challenge facing all small to mid-sized businesses is the lack of qualified and motivated employees. With a record 39 percent of small business owners reporting unfilled job openings, finding qualified workers is the single most challenge facing them in 2019.  “Optimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “Two of every three of these new jobs are historically created by the small business half of the economy, so it will be Main Street that will continue to drive economic growth.”

The year 2018 turned out to be a boom-time for non-bank business lending as 80 percent of traditional bank small business loan applications were rejected. The trend in non-bank financing appears to be ripe for continued growth in 2019. Kabbage, an Atlanta-based online lending company established in 2008, says small businesses now access more than $10 million every day via its platform. Despite all the preponderance of predictions, finding success in business is, in itself, a risky business; one where failure or success awaits just around the corner of opportunity and for those optimistic enough to brave the dangers of the journey.

Social Media Users: Resolve to Share the Responsibility for Protecting Data Privacy in 2019

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While many of us, either personally or professionally, can complain about our experiences in 2018, the major social media platforms, particularly Facebook, had a particularly bad year. Once the seemingly runaway, no goal too high, darling of social media fans of all ages, Facebook’s executives are slinking to the dark corners of their corporate structure to lick their wounds and try to figure out what went wrong and how next to respond to the unabridged, unrelenting criticisms from just about everyone, everywhere.  The troubles for the social media king began early in the year when it was discovered that Facebook harvested personal user data from 87 million of its members and sold the personal data to Cambridge-Analytica, who used it for targeted advertising, particularly political advertising.  The practice apparently wasn’t exactly new. In fact it had been going on for nearly a decade before the practice came to light for millions of users worldwide.

While not alone in its data sharing policy, Facebook’s favorability rating dropped twice as much as other tech giants. An exclusive poll for Axios by SurveyMonkey found that Facebook’s favorability fell 28 points, compared with 13 for Amazon, 12 for Google, 10 for Apple and seven for Twitter. Facebook’s most recent favorability rating was 48 percent, down from 61 percent in October. According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than half of Facebook users in the U.S. said they’ve changed their privacy settings in the past year and more than four in 10 users have taken a break from the social media platform.  Twenty-five percent have gone as far as to delete the Facebook app from their phone. An overwhelming 90 percent of those polled were very concerned about internet privacy.  “The bigger you are the harder you fall” mantra is manifesting itself on Facebook and Google as the least trusted companies in America. Talk about a bad year!

Facebook’s initial response did little to appease the public. “Over recent months we have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We’ve also run education campaigns on and off Facebook to help people around the world better understand how to manage their information on Facebook.” The well-intentioned message unfortunately had subtle tones of, “It’s really our users’ fault for not being well enough educated and informed about our data handling policies”. Which unfortunately is more likely true than not.

The public has overtly embraced new technologies, often without questioning the intentions and motives of those who develop and promote the savvy new platforms. Most of us approve the user agreements without even reading and understanding the content before clicking and surfing. Has our realization come too late? Are we too far into the convenience and comfort of technology to take back control of our private information?  Are we willing to accept that the loss of privacy is the price for a ticket to the big event?

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has announced that his resolution for 2019 is to “focus on fixing” Facebook’s serious problems. “Facebook has a lot of work to do – whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” Perhaps all of his social media followers should take heed and resolve to better understand our responsibility to protecting our own privacy in the coming year.