I’ve been ruminating about brands and user privacy in social networks over at the iCrossing UK Connect blog. It’s an interesting area, and perhaps next to feel the clammy hand of regulation ‘pon it if marketers aren’t paying close attention to the interests of their customers….
A recent study in the US found that more than half of social network users are worried about their privacy.
In the main, privacy concerns seem to focus on the complexity of managing your public profile on Facebook and other services. However, with a growing awareness of broader privacy issues by mainstream web users is beginning to invite more attention to the ways brands respect and support their customers needs in this area.
Even activities as apparently benign as listening to social media conversations about your brand are being questioned by some in the media(see the recent Daily Mail story about web monitoring. Now MPs are portraying companies “trawling Facebook for negative comments” as being “something worthy of the secret police”, understandable in a totalitarian state but unacceptable in ours (perhaps we should ask how many UK Government departments are monitoring social media for mentions of their policy areas).
Whatever our opinions on these stories, its clear that brands need to bear in mind privacy issues in how they develop their online campaigns and especially those where user participation or individuals’ data is involved.
Here are some thoughts to bear in mind:
- Understand user perspective on the issue: We tend to see privacy from a legal point of view, but much more important is how people feel about the issues involved. Clear explanations of how data will be used is required to avoid the perception that a brand wants to pry into a user’s personal information.
- Privacy is a social network as well as a personal issue: Friends and family’s be affected by breaches of an individual’s privacy and they will affect the user’s thinking about privacy in turn.
- Involve legal expertise early and often in your planning: In the past marketers have tended to think of legal as a clearing house for content, a rubber stamp or brand risk management mechanism quite separate from the digital team. At iCrossing, we have often had to challenge this view, bringing legal expertise into the heart of the planning process for blogs, community platforms and broader social media marketing efforts. With this approach we can balance the users’ needs with a given organisation’s need to responsibly manage risk.
- Legal is part of the customer experience: Think about the way that Facebook apps have been criticised by campaigners for handing over too much access / power to the platform and the brand when you agree to install one on your profile. I recall hearing the brilliant Struan Robertson, a lawyer who runs the Out-Lawblog talking at Social Media Influence a couple of years ago about adding in your own terms and conditions to that sign-up processto make it clear what information you will and won’t need access to from a user’s profile and why. This kind of approach goes beyond what’s required, but can help to distance your brand from the clumsy, sweeping disclaimers and small print that most people don’t read, but if paid close attention to can make your intentions to wards personal data see, as it were, less than benign.
- Be aware of shifting attitudes: Understanding of and attitudes to privacy issues online can differ greatly between individuals. There is one universal trend, however: people’s web literacy, their knowledge and experience of how the web works, is increasing all of the time and their attitudes towards issues like privacy will change. For campaigns planned a year in advance, this can be an issue as views and technology use can change quickly.
I’m sure there will be and is more to say on this topic, and it is one we will be watching closely.