I recently received an update on the Big Boulder Initiative from Gnip. (More info here.) There were three things in update that really interested me. 1) Privacy – what is it and how can it be provided,  2) ROI – because we all hate wasting money and 3) Education – I love to teach.

The biggest potential to derail social data and it’s application in making businesses successful, is privacy. It gives marketers context. From the people I’ve spoken with, everyone seems to be on one of two sides.

  1. Just like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus; Privacy doesn’t exist
  2. “I don’t have a Google account because I want to maintain my privacy.”

Given it’s importance, I thought I’d take a shot at resolving the issue that everyone has been talking about, no matter what end of the spectrum they’re on. So here goes . . .

Issue 1: Privacy means something different to everyone.

Issue 2: Without sharing data, in regards to who you are and what you like, you’ll continue to have substandard marketing experiences online. Personalization will be impossible and you will continue to think of us as big dumb marketers.

Also, let me set the record straight for anyone reading this who hates (us) marketers when it comes to data.  The vast majority of my peers and myself don’t want your mailing address. (Print sucks.) We don’t want your last name and we sure as hell don’t want your SSN. Why? Because those data points make us liable – in a country – where being sued is a sport second only to football. What I/we do want is to know your shadow. The sites you frequent. Your sentiment around the content that’s provided. What resonates with you. The times of day when you visit those sites. How long you stay. What apps you use. What devices you prefer. What do you like to buy. What would you like to buy when you move up the corporate ladder. Those things are really helpful in determining what you might like from my business. Shotgun vs. scalpel.

As one would suspect, the answers to those questions are dependent upon when/where that person is. In other words; when I’m using apps in the morning, I’m utilizing a different aspect of my persona than when I use the Internet while at work. Which persona I’m embodying at the moment, dictates what level of privacy I’d prefer. Privacy is contextual. If I’m on Kayak searching for a flight, I’m not too concerned about whether or not my searches are being tracked.  In fact, I want Priceline to track me and send me offers for that flight. The same would be true if I were messaging back and forth with a friend on Twitter. However, if someone is trying to self diagnose an ailment, they’d prefer that no one knows what they’re searching for, knowing that someday – if not now – insurance companies will be very interested in knowing who searches on “how do I quit smoking?” or “symptoms for brain tumors”.

With privacy being contextual, I think it’s safe to say that some people – not everyone – would like to have control over their shadow. They can elect to share certain pieces of information with businesses that they frequent. This, conceptually is an easy thing to do. The real challenge comes from designing a system that allows people to have control over their privacy in a way that they understand the ootential implications. Information is complicated stuff and moves like water. Sometimes in a destructive manner as you can see from the image at the bottom of this post. Behold! Instagram’s new messaging feature.

A system that would inform them of the potential outcomes from sharing  content with their friends and businesses should consist of simple stories. Stories told in text, video, audio and images. These little vignettes would help people come to grips with their data settings. These settings would need to be specific to the social venue.

With a program like this, you’d start small and build it over time. Start with getting one persona down. (Father, Husband, Employee, etc.) Most importantly, it would be a partnership with consumers that care about their privacy in an active, “help me manage this part of my life” way. By embracing this group of people, the system would become smarter as time went on allowing for direct feedback from consumers when businesses get it wrong. The other potential opportunity this affords is allowing for a deeper partnership between businesses and their customers. A later phase of this relationship could have businesses sharing revenues with customers who are willing to share their data, based on the impact their data had. We’re already seeing something like this with AT&T’s recent offer in Austin. (Click here)

Lastly, I’m curious to see how the concept or privacy evolves over the next several years with technology pushing what can be known. In the near future, it’s pretty easy to imagine retailers knowing your heart rate while you’re looking at their new fall line and using that information to recommend other garments. In regards to tech, I remember my 95 year old grandmother telling me a story about when they first got a phone in their house. There was this huge uproar in her community and when she asked someone why the were against getting a phone, they replied, “Then everyone will know what I’m doing!”


By Michael Myers