When It Comes to Leveraging the Social Graph, Language Counts

This week, instead of reporting from the red comfy chair in the living room, I'm reporting from sunny - if cold, Lake Tahoe - where MediaPost is hosting its first-ever Social Media Insider Summit. By day, we've been attending panels and keynotes about where, when, how and if employees should tweet; by night we've been using Google Sky Maps to figure out what the constellations are above our heads. Yes, it's a geek-a-thon!

But since I'm not just a geek but an alleged wordsmith, one of the things that struck me is how important language is to at least some in this crowd, even if it is often communicated in 140-character bursts that often resort to abbreviations. Here's when it struck me: when Forrester Research senior analyst Augie Ray, during a panel on privacy, walked the assembled multitudes through some language that is being used by Amazon to tell people how it would use profile data for those who connect their Amazon accounts to Facebook.



We all know what this normally looks like -- it involves some form of legalese that makes leveraging one's Facebook friends for any purpose seem to be troublesome, invasive and worth having second thoughts about.

But Amazon, by actually thinking of this language in a marketing context, managed to make the idea of linking one's Amazon and Facebook accounts together sound useful and appealing - like you might actually want to do it. Here are some excerpts of how it explained the deal. Connecting Facebook and Amazon together would let the user:

·       "Discover Amazon recommendations for movies, music and more based on your Facebook profile."

·       "See upcoming birthdays and find your Facebook friends' Amazon Wish Lists more easily."

·       "Get gift suggestions for your friends based on their Facebook profiles."

·       "Explore your friends' profiles and see who has similar interests."

"Now, that's something I could use," a potential user might say. It also uses clear language to make clear all of the potentially troubling ways personal data will not be used.

So why I am so focused on a few sentences? Though I hadn't really spent a lot of time thinking about it previously, much of the language used to describe privacy policy is off-putting, when it should really be part of the marketing program - telling you why you might want to do something instead of making you feel you might not.

It's something marketers need to think about more. Amazon could have used more strictly legal language; it also could have done what most companies do when they launch a Facebook app: default to intimidating, boilerplate Facebook-ese. That's not just lazy; it's a bit self-defeating. While most of us in the business gleefully skim past the verbiage about what personal information an app we're downloading has access to, many people find that verbiage to be a deterrent. Why not, as Amazon has, explain precisely what the benefits of using the app might be?

Maybe this is a topic only a linguist could love, but I think it's about more than that. It's part of building trust, and that's central to what good marketing is about.

Thanks to everyone who made this event come off so well. And here's hoping we get to do it all over again next year.
1 comment about "When It Comes to Leveraging the Social Graph, Language Counts".
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  1. Ed Borasky, September 1, 2010 at 9:11 p.m.

    "It's part of building trust, and that's central to what good marketing is about."

    And it's something Amazon has been good at for as long as they've been on the web. The surprise to be has been that Amazon would even want to lend any of its credibility to Facebook.

    They're a powerhouse - they could have simply refused to deal with Facebook and gotten away with it. And if Facebook / Zuckerberg doesn't learn something from this, Amazon could make him cry in ways we can't even imagine. ;-)

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