How the Semantic Web Will Change Social Media Marketing Part 4: Your Privacy
She's the giant red flag that's been flying in my face ever since I began researching this topic. She appeared when I mentioned the missing red sock, and she stuck with me through my talk of targeting marketing and controlled crowdsourcing.
Her name is Privacy.
When discussing the semantic web and privacy, there are actually two main concerns for many consumers. One is more technical, and it has less to do with social media marketers than it has to do with the fear that an unscrupulous hacker will use tagged information for evil. This is a serious concern - Jim even wrote on the topic last summer. Semantic web advocates such as our old friend Berners-Lee argue that a semantic web will allow for more privacy. Whether or not the W3C can curb online privacy invasion will have to be seen.
The second concern has everything to do with social media marketing, and it begs the question "how targeted is too targeted?" Many consumers have issues with marketers knowing too much about them, even if this info is only being used to sell them things, and not to invade their homes when they're on vacation. In this post, I'm going to address this latter concern. It deals much more directly with social media marketers, and it's a topic that doesn't seem to have much coverage where the semantic web is concerned.
We're Gonna Find You
Microtargeting, the art of advertising to smaller, more specific audiences, isn't exactly the newest buzzword in the dictionary of all things social media. (Twenty years ago, sending specific postcards based on zip code was considered the cutting edge advertising to specific audiences.) But a fully semantic web could take this marketing mackerel and turn it into a mammoth movement.
If the semantic web is an internet of computers that "understand" content, then it follows that individuals are among the billions of objects to be tagged. To echo the point I made in a previous post - Facebook has more than 800 "tags" on me alone, including photos, videos, friends, and "likes." And these are all tags that I generated myself, by creating a profile.
(NOTE: I use Facebook as my main example because it is, currently, the most widely-used and heavily semantic social network out there. This may change in the next few months, and it will likely change in the next few years.)
So Hide Your Tags
The more semantic our social profiles become, the more ubiquitoius they will be with our consumer profiles. And many are clearly unhappy with this. Privacy is, after all, one of the main motivators behind the development of the Facebook competitor to-be, Diaspora. The idea for this startup social network was launched by four NYU students earlier this year; they released the source code on github in mid-September, and should be in alpha next month.
So how do social media marketers go about reaching the audiences they want to address without making consumers feel like they're being stalked by Big Brother? Interestingly, the answer to this issue caused by too much technology may be solved by... more technology. Social media marketing agency Rapleaf is actuallly developing a system called "Anonymouse" to un-tag certain over-identifying consumer cookie markers. Marketers should definitely consider embracing similar forms of data anonymizing to show that they respect the privacy concerns of their fans.
I also think that the way brands speak to and engage with their audiences can have a huge influence on the perception of their advertising. Okay, clearly the way you address your audience impacts what they think of you. But if brands are going to assume more personalized targeting with their audiences, then maybe it's about time that they became a lot more human. Some of the most successful marketing campaigns in recent times have stemmed from companies who decided to stop taking themselves too seriously, and instead used what they learned about their target audiences to embrace ideas, memes and celebreties their fans already cared about. Orbitz's partnership with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett's dumbdumb is a great example of this kind of targeted engagement.
Hide Your Location
Brightkite - launched in 2007, allowed people to share their position using their smartphones.
Foursquare - launched in 2009; allowed people to share their location using their smartpones; AND allowed people to become the "mayors" of certain locations and earn rewards and badges for checking in.
One application is much more successful than the other.
Lesson learned? Telling random others where you are is intrinsicly kind of creepy. The warm fuzzy feeling you get when you're donned "mayor" of your favorite bar (and receive a free round in the process)? Might make the "creepiness" more worth it.
When developing marketing campaigns and social applications in a more semantic web, don't expect people to tag for the sake of tagging. But many of us will tag for the sake of gaining something. (Secretly I'm hoping that we'll all start semanticly tagging for the greater good of the internet, but that may be just be the optimist in me.)
Hide Your Hypotheses Too
I can sit and make conjectures about potential privacy issues with the semantic web all day, but until we tag the last tree in the final Flickr photograph as definitely 'a Willow in the wintertime,' we don't really know how these developments will affect others' abilities to locate our information.
Should fear of privacy violations make us skittish about a semantic web? In my opinion, no. If Berners-Lee is right about ubiquitous tagging bringing about increased control against unwanted info leaks, then, I say, bring it on. If he's wrong, and there are serious violations of a more organized web, I believe that he won't be wrong for long. A web of organized data would be even more readily adaptable to udates and increased security features (would you rather make major changes in a 500 MB Excel file or a 500 MB Word doc?).
In the end, I feel that the semantic web is an inevitable result of the social web. The room is too messy. It's time to put the content on the shelves and implement the digital form of the Dewey decimal system.
As social media marketers, it's our responsibility to ensure that we use these developments to increase our connection and create better conversations with our fans. At the same time, we need to refrain from violating the privacy concerns of consumers. Tools like Rapleaf's "Anonymouse" should become become more widely used in the coming years, and I look forward to researching and writing on them.
For now, I tag this series as "finished."
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