Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leaving Footprints?

What’s a social networker to do? There’s no doubt that marketers don’t (or no longer ought to) broadcast messages to a massive, passive audience. There’s a reason which the term “opinion leaders” goes back to 1955…but you can contrast this idea to some of the recent Super Bowl XLII – interesting if you have a leading opinion about Dalmatians or Richard Simmons (I was bemused by the Bridgestone commercials, so sue me).

“The Cluetrain Manifesto” was written almost 10 years back and it is now accepted that markets are conversations. I won’t even put that in quotes, it’s becoming a bit tattered.

More and more new mechanisms – like Facebook – are being used for marketing. More social conversations. More prospective marketing interactions. So web marketers are hoping that social networks like Facebook will take Internet advertising into its “fourth phase,” beyond search advertising. Marketers not only want to observe consumers’ conversations (via tracking), they want to participate in those conversations.

Okay – social media is on the right path. One possible challenge, though, is that you may not be able to leave the party once you’ve joined it – I mean like the Communist Party, not the St. Andrew’s Day bash at your local.

Too long a lead? Apparently, you never actually disappear from Facebook. Even if you opt out of sharing information. Even if you deactivate your account. According to a copyrighted story by Maria Aspan in yesterday’s New York Times, “Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.”

As Aspan says, disenchanted users can’t disappear from the site without leaving footprints unless they rigorously delete their data, line by line, and then deactivate. (You can read more, by blogger Steven Mansour, in his own dramatic post here – which is also mentioned in the NYT article…very in-your-face.)

So it’s social interaction vs personal privacy. On the one side, you ought to be responsible enough to realize that your personal stuff is, like, on billboards where everyone can see it, right? Yep, you may very well regret showing off those tattoos (or body parts) at some future point in your life. But there’s no 1984 here, no way to go back most of the time and erase those embarrassing – or even worse – items. So social interaction websites ought to be touched with some human thought…yours.

On the other side, (most) marketers don’t really want to know in detail what you did after leaving the bar with your work buddies Friday night. Marketers normally want “you” in specific portions, not you in particular and personally. Why? Principally, I think, because they don’t have the time for one-to-one selling, though this does occur. I choose not to speak for the government.

I was just invited to join the Only in Houston group on Facebook and since I use the site, I thought, “Why not?” Maybe Ann Iverson will buy me a Martini. I don’t believe any information I have on Facebook will horrify anyone, I don’t care about that. Maybe I’ll have more conversations this way.

But do consider that every participant in a conversation leaves footprints (I know, it’s a mixed metaphor). A talented marketer, advertiser or publicist will follow those footprints and, perhaps, try to engage you in additional conversations. That’s what we’re paid to do, we want to involve you somehow in the brands we represent. The real trick is to make the action – and the conversation – meaningful to both parties in the conversation. How come? The Internet is a two-way street. The person leaving the footprints can easily track yours as well.

If you want to stop leaving footprints altogether, it’s going to you take a lot of work.


Richard Laurence Baron said...

Stop Press: In today's NYT, reporter Aspan indicates that Facebook is "trying to make it easier for people to delete their accounts permanently..."

When bloggers rant, Facebook can't. When The New York Times comes knocking, Facebook can.

Anonymous said...

Let me know where you are going to have that martini with Ann...perhaps you could invite her to Mo's next Thursday. (Be sure to let us know if she will be there.)