With Facebook as the new lightning rod for privacy concerns, it should become patently obvious to brands and agencies that this is not an issue contained only in the field of advertising, let alone behavioral targeting. Somehow lost in the focus on the BT angle in recent years is the obvious: You're all publishers now. Every brand has a Web site. Every brand is collecting data. Every brand is reaching out now into the social networks, where it is collecting even more data about users. And as brands leave their own sites and start publishing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and in the blogosphere, suddenly privacy is no longer an issue that can be handled on the privacy page.
"No marketer wants to see their name splashed across the newspapers as having done something wrong from a privacy perspective," says Jay Henderson, director of product marketing, Unica. Unica makes software for marketers that combines customers' direct mail, email, Web site and now social media behaviors to craft profiles of the customer base. The company works with some of the leading consumer-facing brands -- which are, according to Henderson, "very sensitive to the privacy of consumers. They have good intentions about what they are trying to do with this type of data. A lot of it is going to inform how they are running campaigns, which types of campaigns they are running, or being able to present a marketing offer or marketing message that resonates better with their customer."
Social networks represent an incredible new fount of consumer-level data, he says, and almost every brand he sees is eager to engage it. But at the company blog in late April, he discussed Facebook's recent policy changes over how much data is publicly available: "Consumers are still learning about these changes and informing their own opinions about them. There are big privacy implications here, and it is unclear how public sentiment will shake out, so while there is great opportunity, proceed with caution."
The reason the privacy implications of Facebook's moves can have such profound implication on a company's own practices is because marketers are being given unprecedented access to the Facebook user. "Now, when users grant a Facebook application permission to use their profile data, they give marketers permission for long term use of basic account information - user ID, name, email, gender, birthday, current city, profile picture URL, and the user IDs of the user's friends who have also connected with your application," he writes. "Marketers do still need to obtain customer consent to use this data for any non-Facebook purposes."
When we spoke with Henderson, he reiterated that the social graph is enticing everyone, but most companies are still looking at the opportunity in its broadest traditional terms. "The approach most companies are taking to social media is a kind of brand-oriented approach, an almost mass-media approach," he days. "They are turning to the agencies who have a brand disposition."
But he sees the real promise of this platform in one-to-one. As it is, Unica is leveraging the Facebook APIs and other tools to see how a brand is being extended successfully onto Facebook and Twitter, for instance. "We can help you understand at an aggregate level how many people are viewing your Facebook page, where they are within your Facebook fan pages, in the tabs and the apps, how people are interacting with the applications."
At the advanced end of the spectrum, marketers are beginning to do social segmentation from this data. "They can identify which of their customers are ‘hubs,' meaning the highly connected," Henderson says. "And they find the ‘influencers," -- which means regardless of how many connections they have these people have the ability to influence outcomes and opinions within their customer base."
Once marketers understand how these groups actually behave differently, the brands can craft much more granular campaigns that target specific types in the social graph with the offers that resonate best. "A lot of the relationship marketing that is done today is very offer-centric. Here is a discount, a sale, a promotion," he says. "But a lot of the influencers typically are looking for more of an emotional connection with the brand. They are not motivated by discounts but are more interested in exclusive access or early access to things. They like premium treatment."
But with great power comes greater responsibility. While the controversy over Facebook's new settings and policies raise concern, Henderson thinks that long term the social network could help brands manage the privacy problem. "One of the things they announced has to do with extending the Facebook profile to other sites so the marketer could leverage the privacy settings within Facebook. The privacy protections and ad management that Facebook [provides] could help [marketers] not worry so much about that themselves, because they know your Facebook data doesn't get shared unless the user is prompted."
As a new generation of social networking APIs from multiple providers emerges, the interconnectedness of brands, publishers and their mutual customers becomes baked into most sites. Just as Facebook is surfacing a privacy concern that didn't seem to touch most consumers so intimately before, these are also the kinds of social networks that can habituate users to managing their own privacy profile. "I think you could see a kind of privacy aggregator or see big hubs where your information will start to emerge," Henderson says. "You use Facebook for all of your friend-oriented stuff and LinkedIn for the work stuff. Then I could manage what I share and how I share it through these privacy or profile hubs."