Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Three Things I Won't Share On Social Media (Unless I Want To)

It's pretty obvious to anyone on any Social Media platform that advertising is still the main business model. And it's pretty obvious to advertisers that the more they know about me, the better a job they can do at predicting what I might want to buy next.

To that end, most Social Media networks ask me to share a lot of my personal information with them. Of course they want me to find people like myself, past work colleagues, alumuni of my college, people with similar interests - and so they tell me how much easier it would be to find these people if only I were part of that network.

In fact, when I first joined Facebook, you had to pick a geographic network. Whether you liked it or not, you were lumped in with people in your relative geographic location. As soon as I was able to remove a geographic network from my FB account, I did.

There are many reasons I might want to share a piece of information with a Social Media platform and there are even more reasons why I might not. When you're asking for personal information, contact information and other market research data, consider that what is best for you, is not always best for your customer.

Here are three things I won't share with you, unless you make me...or unless I want to.

1) My Past Locations
This includes former addresses, places of employment and education.

Maybe it's just me, but I really have very little incentive to speak with the folks I knew in high school. Or college. Or grad school. We were in the same place at the same time, and we did share some experiences but that doesn't mean we're "friends." And if we are, there's a good chance I'll know how to find them without your help. The same is true for former colleagues and neighbors. These are situational relationships and once we're no longer dealing with the same boss, we may in fact have nothing in common.

Before you ask us where we went to school, consider that, for many people, school was *not* the greatest time of their lives and that things that happened in that (perhaps distant) past are not really worth revisiting. And what, really, value is that to you as a social platform or as a business? Consider the analogue version of this question, "Oh, you're from Ohio? My nephew lives you know him?" When you ask me where I went to school, so I can "connect" with other people who went to that school, that's exactly what I hear in my head.

2) My Present Location
I'm not going to propose a scenario here about women, and the consequences of telling perfect strangers where to find them, but let's be realistic here - for ages, companies have asked us to provide our names, addresses, phone numbers and emails if we so much as want to mention that their coupon had a spelling mistake.  WHY? You are not going to call us - we don't want you to call us, it would be intrusive and weird.

Foursquare is a system designed around the idea that reporting our location could be of benefit to us. Check in and get a discount. Check in a lot and get a bigger discount. But...take a step back and tell me that this wouldn't be the most useful tool for a stalker in the known universe. Because it would. And if you have ever written an article, blog post, book or done an interview and had a mailbox full of hate, there is no way this tool is going to look like something you want to participate in.

3) My Future Location
I might be planning a trip. I might even want to share it with my Twitter pals. Does that mean that I want ads telling me about great deals in that location? Maybe...but not unless you ask me first.

Again, imagine an analogue scenario. You're talking to friends on the phone about a trip. Then your local travel agency calls, "We hear you're going to Las Vegas. Call us about a special deal on hotels!" "Targeted advertising" feels remarkably similar to "creepy eavesdropping" for the average person. The fact that you're parsing my status updates doesn't make your business makes your business a stalker.

Before you ask questions about your consumers, consider the possibility that being intrusive has less value than you think in a building a relationship with them.
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