Last May, I wrote a post about how advertisers are targeting us online, and doing so pretty effectively. The topic is an important one, so I thought I’d add some more thoughts here.
One statistic that appears a lot these days is an interesting one: While only 14 percent of consumers in America trust advertisements today, some 78 percent trust peer recommendations.
The implication for marketers and ad sales reps is obvious, get friends talking about your client, and recommendations often turn into changed minds. But first you need to know what friends are saying to each other.
All of us who use a social media site like Facebook are already self-identified members of a target audience segment, probably not knowing we’ve offered up the information that put us into that segment.
With that standing comes a flurry of ads on our FB page, which may well be a different array of ads than on someone else’s page because – in a real sense – you have said to the advertiser, I’m your most likely customer.
“Facebook has incredible potential to deliver customers to advertisers based on information that members submit themselves … when they communicate with friends, identify their ‘likes’ … and share their interests,” media scholar John Vivian notes.
The “Like” button is only the latest means of finding out how much we like certain things, people, or ideas. The marketer’s idea is to use those preferences to influence friends of online friends to buy that product, service, or political candidate.
This button sends an instant message to advertisers that you are a potential target. As a result, many Facebook users are more judicious in deciding when to hit that button.
As I mentioned in May, Facebook says it does not pass on information to other parties without the user’s permission, although it does use the aggregated data.
The Facebook, “Data Use Policy,” is located elsewhere in the site and also runs a few thousand words.
Ever read this?
Obviously, few users actually take the time to read the entire legal agreements so – more often than not – users do not know they actually do have some control over the uses of their personal data.
Nevertheless, portions of the FB policy notes the following:
“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings; you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).
- When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.
- When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”
The ad policy
About advertising specifically, the policy notes elsewhere:
“Our goal is to deliver ads and commercial content that are valuable to our users and advertisers. In order to help us do that, you agree to the following:
- You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.
- We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent.
- You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.”
Here to stay
Like so many other aspects of the Internet, the social media seem destined to be here for a long time to come. And anytime a couple hundred million people decide to flock to a media site, you just know the advertisers are going to be there in the midst of them.
The question to be addressed is this: What are the ethical limits of online marketing, especially when it comes to obtaining personal information about consumers?
In some respects, what is occurring with Web marketing companies and research firms might be analogous to high-tech wiretapping. One might ask how much daylight is there between tapping into a phone conversation and tapping into a Facebook exchange between friends.
The latter may not be illegal, but the results are the same. Through the Web crawlers that pick up any mention of a client’s product, service, or candidate, marketers do seem to be tapping into personal conversations.
The ethics issue has not gone unnoticed by marketing companies themselves. For example, one Web marketer posted this on its home page recently:
“Consumers’ lack of trust [in online marketing] is illustrated by a recent privacy survey conducted by IBM in which 78% of responding U.S. consumers stated that they did not complete an online purchase because they were concerned about how their personal data might be used by the site. A survey by Jupiter backs up these results — they found that 58% of respondents worry about companies selling their personal information to others.”
Although this is a lack of trust simply related to data emanating from online purchases, users of social media sites and even e-mail users are wary of what they say, click, or respond to on those sites or regarding incoming e-mails.
To avoid losing consumer trust, some Web marketers are advocating policies like this one from Web Advantage:
“In order to gain the trust of consumers, online retailers must *clearly* spell out their privacy policies on their sites. Consumers should know *exactly* what the site plans on doing (or not doing) with any personal information or indirect data (cookies, IP addresses, etc.) they divulge as a result of visiting and interacting with a web site. If a site’s policy is to sell OR share consumer information with business partners, that fact needs to be disclosed.”
The age of interactive, online marketing might promise more tailored commercial messaging – something which many consumers might appreciate – but it comes at a cost.