Abiding Themes 2 / Privacy

For all the column inches that it garners, you would have thought that the issue of on line privacy, and the collection of personal data by websites would be a bigger concern for the average internet user.  However, when you look at the level of minutiae about their daily lives and relationships that people happily post onto Facebook or Twitter, it is clear that on the whole, people aren’t that concerned about exactly what they share.

The CEOs of both Facebook and Google have publicly made comments along the lines of:

If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about…

The functionality of both of these websites – along with thousands of others – rely to an extent on users being comfortable with being tracked around the Internet so that their behaviour, interests, likes and dislikes can be built into their user profiles, and ultimately used to tailor the advertising experience that they receive in the future.

There are ongoing legal issues about non-consensual data capture, and all websites should have some degree of privacy policy that outlines what information is being used and what it is being used for.  As of 2010, the Facebook privacy policy ran to more than 5,830 words.  Google have a basic policy outline that is around 1,700 words in length but also run additional privacy policies for each of their different products, and many of these are longer.

While websites do publicly display their privacy policies, only a comparatively small number of people will ever read the full terms of service – the same is often true of the infamous EULA that you get when you buy software.  People using the web recreationally want a convenient Internet experience, not one of checking boxes every time they load a new page.  We live in a world where assent is assumed:

Qui tacet consentit

Of course, there are two ways of providing information, consensually sharing it through active posts or uploads, and passively sharing it via publishers using analytics to track your behaviour.  Ultimately, to be successful, Social Networks rely on a combination of both of these methods of gathering information about their users.  In order to tailor an experience to the user, or intoduce the user to new content, it is important to know how they behave and what they like.

It’s also really important to note that in the off line world, individuals share a great deal more information than they do on line. From store loyalty cards through to government agencies, data is constantly being moved around, aggregated, packaged up and sold, often without consent.

Does this matter?

From a marketing perspective, having better information about the audience means that campaigns can be constructed in a more demographically relevant way making them more efficient at a cost and conversion level.  It also means that people are not subjected to advertising that is not in line with their interests.

Data capture also means that individual preferences can be taken into account to tailor the user experience to what the user wants.

The biggest challenge with privacy is ensuring that data is not used for purposes beyond the reasons explicitly given for capturing it in the first place.  Ultimately, people need to take responsibility for the information that they make public, and take an active interest in what they don’t realise they are making publicly available.

Ironically, for a large percentage of the on line audience it is the improving experience that they have on line in terms of personalised search results and behaviourally targeted advertising that is educating them to challenge what they are sharing, and share less passive information.  This ultimately leads to a worse experience for them in terms of receiving media that is poorly targeted, and search results that are less relevant to them.

There needs to be an opt out model for the internet – most modern browsers now allow this, but in order to have a more fulfilling experience on the Web, it is all but essential to surrender some personal information.

As Eric Schmidt said:

If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about…

Abiding Themes 1 / Blurring the Lines

The fundamental difference between old media and new  media is the idea of discussion.  While TV and print are essentially one way channels of communication, the web is a platform for response. It was conceived as a means of sharing information between locations rather than just transmitting.

Of course, not everyone uses the Internet in this way:  A hallmark of businesses that have moved on line reluctantly, rather than being born there is often the lack of appreciation of this need for dialogue.  When an organisation has operated successfully using a particular methodology for a long time, there can be a great deal of cultural inertia that prevents meaningful change.  Businesses that treat the web as no more than another media channel to be lumped in alongside TV, Newspapers and Radio and deploy the same marketing approach there will never operate efficiently or create an identity that adequately resonates with their customers.

People expect to be talked to rather than shouted at, to have their views and opinions taken into account, and to be VALUED.  Businesses on line that fail to engage, and simply use the web as another advertising opportunity to shout are falling into the same marketing trap that John Wannamaker was talking about:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted

With Social Media, businesses quickly discover that they cannot adopt the same approach that they do with other channels.  It’s hard to hide behind a snappy slogan or clever advert when you’re speaking directly to a customer.  Social Media is something that a lot of marketers within organisations know that they need to “do”, but don’t know how.

I see a lot of different approaches to Social Media, and more often than not the ones that are successful are the ones where the marketing department is not distinct from the rest of the organisation.  With relationship marketing you need a relationship.  You need more than just a demographic chart to target your customers, you need an understanding that one size rarely fits all, and that everyone is looking for something different.

The reason that big business often fails to “get” Social Media in any meaningful way is that they think like big businesses and overlook individual customers in favour of aggregating a customer base.  Smaller organisations that work with individuals can talk to their customers as individuals, and this is essentially Social Media.

It’s not impossible for big business to do social media, but it requires a different mindset in order to achieve meaningful success.

First Post / Why Now

To a writer, there are few things as daunting as an empty page.  Whether you are writing an essay, a novel, or a blog, the first word is the hardest.  Your idea may be fully formed in your mind with an elegant structure and compelling argument in place to back up the message that you want to convey, but getting started is always hard.

At best I’m an irregular blogger but it’s not for want of inspiration or desire.  I love what I do on a daily basis, and am genuinely excited by the things I see and do on line.  There is always something to do, and by virtue of that, always something worth writing about.

So why don’t I write more?  I guess it’s because other things get in the way.  I love words, I’m entranced by communication, and the way in which the simplest idea can influence millions of people by virtue of the way it is presented.  It’s just that sometimes, like most other people, I fall too easily into the trap of content consumer to be a content producer.

I blog somewhat irregularly about SEO and Social Media in a number of places, both in my own name, and also under a variety of pseudonyms, but I’ve generally resisted having my own blog written explicitly by me because I don’t necessarily want to be a reactive voice in the herd, and simply add more vapid commentary in an already packed content market.

I’ve watched a lot of things changing in the last couple of years.  The web has gone from being a content dictatorship to a democracy where individual voices matter more.  Rather than the discovery of content being controlled by secret algorithmic rules that approximate human interest, the discovery of content is being controlled by actual human interest, by personal recommendation, and by sharing based on taste.

If the 1990s were the era of the personal web, and the 2000s were the public web; the 2010s will be the decade of the interpersonal web – a time in which our on line experiences are defined by our relationships.  Social communication is already an essential part of the way we find content, and this is only going to get more important as new channels are exposed to us.

In a way, the changes are likely to be uncomfortable for some – particularly the cynical businesses that show contempt for their customers – but the strange thing is, a social web is actually a much more natural web.

There is no Google off line.