First off – apologies to my loyal readers who would have noticed that I haven’t posted for a few weeks while on the road. Those who know me personally know that one of my more interesting projects has nothing to do with digital media, but with marine conservation, particularly shark conservation. I’m working on undercover projects throughout the world, documenting the systematic depletion of the apex predators of the largest ecosystem on earth. The oceans make up almost 80% of our planet. Human arrogance and ignorance has no bounds. Anyway, for now that’s all I can write about the project, as I am trying to keep it somewhat under wraps. I do assume that the underbelly of the world’s poaching and illegal fishing communities are not reading my digital media blog… If you’re interested in more information on this subject feel free to drop me an email anytime.
Ok – digital media hat back on…
While on the road I’ve been dying to chime in on the developments with Facebook and the social media dominance that lies ahead of us. Social media has become the next “killer app” after email and search. From a consumer adoption standpoint, we’ve crossed the social media tipping point some time ago. In the UK traffic to social networks has surpassed that of web based email. Even in the US the younger generation of consumers is quickly abandoning email as a primary communication method, as they are communicating within social networks as part of their daily lifestyles. After the healthy gestation period in consumers’ lifestyles, social media is finally approaching a similar tipping point for marketers. Note that I am referring to the entire ecosystem of social media, not solely social networks. More on that next week, as today I want to focus my thoughts on social networks and Facebook in particular. Facebook has been under our collective microscopes lately. The number two social network is under significant pressure to actualize the ridiculous $15 billion valuation (post-microsoft infusion of $240 million for 1.5% equity) by leveraging the vast vaults of consumer data for marketing programs. The beacon program may have been a little over ambitious, but as a marketer, you gotta’ love the attempt to push the envelope. The public apology from CEO and founder Mark Zucerberg was reminiscent of Doubleclick’s progressive efforts to merge online and offline consumer data back in ’99 and 2000, and their subsequent public apology (they actually took out a full page ad in WSJ to ‘air’ the apology to the business and investor communities). My agency, Mass Transit Interactive, was the digital media lead on the Doubleclick account at the time. We handled all the database building efforts and digital media. There was nothing unethical about it, and it was quite an interesting effort. Doubleclick became a martyr by acquiring the massive consumer database company Abacus and pioneering an approach that has since become commonplace (albeit still questionable) in the direct marketing industry – data appending. May Facebook’s efforts result in the same eventual adoption? Of course major differences exist in the digital media ecosystem today. One consistency however is that consumer privacy and experience issues are still all around us. Consumers have more control than ever before. The backlash against Facebook’s beacon program materialized within the fabric of the social network itself, as MoveOn.org quickly rallied over 50,000 Facebook members to speak out against the program in a Facebook Group. You have to love the irony of that in and of itself. However, generally speaking, all of Facebooks new ad programs are geared towards deeper marketing integration and relevant consumer experiences. Social networks have such rich data on consumers, our interests, and our friends’ interests, hence the potential of the channel. As the dust clears from the recent feather ruffling, we should be able to map this self reported consumer information with hyper relevant marketing. It’s a win-win.
I do however think that the cries from privacy groups are usually unfounded, and steeped in ignorance of the methodologies and approaches that we employ (beacon program aside, which was a little beyond the normal standards and best practices of the industry). Privacy groups question behavioral targeting and other new technologies that do not actually jeopardize consumer privacy. Of course these technologies create improved consumer experiences as it relates to marketing relevancy. Ironically, a heated issue among privacy groups exists today around Google’s acquisition of none other than … you guessed it – Doubleclick. This is yet another scenario where the ignorance of the ramifications and benefits of the combined entity are jading the views of these groups. With all due respect, I can only hope that the aging members of the congressional and senate committees that hear these cases seek consultation from those in the know.