Tag Archives: Relevancy

Privacy Irrelevance?

Another season and another Digital Hollywood ended yesterday and is officially in the books. While there were a couple of recurring themes – social, Netflix, Big Data, social and social – one of the larger “Eureka” moments was the clarity on the idea that debates on privacy and social or browsing are somewhat irrelevant. It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that conversation will come to Privacy when discussing Big Data and the growing opportunity to gain insights from the many bits of data collected on every one of us.  One stat bandied about was that most adults already have amassed 2-3 Terra-bytes of data and will continue to drive 1TB for every year forward.  When you think about that on its own – along with the omnipresence of tracking-enabled products from entities such as Google, Microsoft and others – there is more than enough reason for people to have a growing concern. But, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, those concerns of relevant to the invasion of personal privacy might not be what they seem.


There are a few elements to consider when determining how concerned we should be about Privacy:
– The make-up of the data packs,
– The proper use of that data,
– User Differences by Generation,
– and what should be done to protect ourselves.

Before getting into details, the company line across the board is that security of data is of the utmost importance. But, as we’ve seen, that accounts for little to those who really want to breach security – just ask the US Veteran’s Administration, credit card providers and, just last week, Living Social (whose data was breached to the tune of 50K users’ information.) In all of these examples, None of these examples are tied specifically to social activity, or browsing history, or targeted advertising. When the politicians or privacy experts start railing against privacy in big data for use in targeted media, remember that.

The Data Packs

Those TB of data per person mentioned above is a LOT to parse through on an individual basis. It’s effectively counterproductive to draw up pictures of individuals for targeted media as it’s too much work to get to the numbers you need for an effective campaign. In the case of Big Data, the data packs need to be broader in order to be effective. Could some government look to use the specific data for nefarious or “1984-ian” means? Sure.  But remember, credit card companies have effectively had more telling data on us over the past  40 years.

The Proper Use of Data

When you poll most people about their use of the web and mobile, the majority will say they are sick of ads that have no relevance to them.  As those data packs come into play for more targeted media plans, people will receive content and advertising that is more aligned with their interests.  As long as that placement is not uncomfortable or “Big Brother” like, most people will find those well targeted pieces beneficial and the content distributors/advertisers will appreciate their optimized impressions.

Generational Differences

The general perception of the older generation about the younger one is that of disbelief about what people are sharing about themselves. A simplified perspective on the difference in generations is found when looking at mobile; the Brick phone (Motorola DynaTAC 8000X) was introduced 30 years ago and mobile phones that were cheap enough and small enough to sort-of fit in pockets were introduced 20 years ago. Those who are in college or just graduating high school have never been bound to their homes in order to communicate with others who were far away. That difference is just one of many leading to a completely different consideration of privacy.  In fact, ever since any one of us got our first mobile phone (or credit card, for that matter), we should have been concerned about privacy for that matter.

Which brings us to the second part of this element and leads to the next one. What do we care to share and what don’t we?  The beauty is that each platform provides the choice of participation and security settings. The sad part is that some make it harder to refine security settings than others. It comes down to personal consideration of how much benefit one can derive from the information they are sharing. And, looking into the future, everyone needs to consider what they can stand to have on on the internet in perpetuity.

Many older generations question youth (Millennials) and what they share, but shortchange youth on their social intelligence and savvy. As these mediums are ones that they’ve never lived without, they intrinsically have a better beat on how to get around things.  That could be in the platforms they use. Or, the act of children leaving their mobile phones at a friend’s house during a “sleepover” while they head out to have fun. Or, self censoring what they share and how they share it.  In all cases, young and old, we can’t really control who we share it with. Leading us to…

Protecting Ourselves

Just as we wouldn’t step into the street without looking both ways, we shouldn’t be interacting via digital platforms without recognizing where we’re going.  And, just as we can’t decide not to cross the street just to alleviate risk, we can’t disconnect from all devices and still hope to remain connected and vibrant.

Marketplace Tech from American Public Media ran a segment this morning that illustrated exactly what we can learn from the younger generation (listen to the audio as it is not in the text.) While most of Jeremy Hobson’s interview with New Jersey high school students focus on the platforms they use and why, they do end with suggestions for “their parents.” Those suggestions convey exactly how this younger generation understands exactly what the long-term effects of sharing and data are.

That request is that parents need to consider what images they post of their kids as there could be nothing more mortifying than seeing images of yourself as a child on a beach popping up when you are 17.

In the end, the concerns about privacy in the era of Big Data are effectively moot as that ship has already sailed. As systems and algorithms are refined, people (or users) will find content served up to them where they will consider seeing irrelevant content to be as annoying as being tied to the home phone or digging around for coins to feed the payphone.

All through time, the conveyance of personal information has been a personal decision.  Those who want to be more secretive work hard to do so.  Those who don’t care, don’t. The only thing that has really changed might be what people consider to be truly personal information and how that information is used.

In the past, we didn’t have the bandwidth to parse that information to target at scale. Now we do.  There are certain sensitivities we have to be conscious of, but as the interview with the high school students shows, those concerns about data privacy are becoming less and less relevant.

The Hypocritical Conundrum of Media, Marketing and Youth

A mantra among social marketing mavens is Relevancy and Authenticity. The message does not mean a thing if it doesn’t use those elements – and perhaps a few more – to engage or connect with the members of the community.  But what if the community is being joined – rightfully or not – by the youth that might not be old enough to participate in the conversation? Is it OK to just figure media, marketing and messaging should be accessible to kids just because they have more access than ever before to the distribution points? And who is responsible for those viewers? A recently released study sponsored by Microsoft and a few universities point to the challenges of determining responsibility.

The focus of the study’s report was on parents’ involvement in allowing under-aged children to lie in order to get around Facebook’s ban of users under the age of 13.  The delineation of 13 is based on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that was enacted in 1998.  COPPA sets regulations for commercial websites regarding serving information to users under the age of 13 and the collection of data.  Effectively, it requires the consent of parents for any child under the age of 13 with screening mechanisms in place.  At the time the US Act was passed, it is questionable whether anyone envisioned the type of information that would be collected in the future via sites like Facebook.  In the report, you can see the high level of parents who either knew their child was active on Facebook or even helped set up their account by lying about their age.

This could be a problem for companies if they knew that kids under age were using their sites without the proper precautions, but the fact that kids (and/or parents) are lying about it does remove some culpability from the owners of those sites.  It just brings the question of what is right and what controls should be in place when it comes to access for the youth of today.

There are certainly many outlets for children to access secure, relevant and authentic content.  Perhaps the content and interaction on those outlets are presented in a “social” way, but the fundamentals of social engagement seem better learned through real-life engagements. In the case of social media, is access best served to kids who have not even gotten the fundamentals of social behaviour crystalized? It would be easy to state that it should be up to the parents, if only the parents could really be held accountable.  As we know, parents are not always able to educate, guide or safeguard children in all instances – regardless of intent, concern or compassion. It is questionable whether parents (or the entire public for that matter) understand or recognize exactly how much private information can be gleaned from the internet quickly and easily, so to expect that they would govern their children’s online use based on that might be expecting too much.

The following passage from the report “Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age” authored by Danah Boyd, Eszther Hargittai, Jason Schultz and John Palfrey relates to children under 13 accessing the Facebook site.

The bottom line, however, is that youth under 13 appear to be on Facebook in large numbers. And while Facebook takes steps to remove underage users, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated at a talk on education that Facebook only imposes the under–13 prohibition because of COPPA’s restrictions (Lev–Ram, 2011). He argued that younger children should be allowed to get on Facebook because doing so is an important part of the educational process. With regard to COPPA, Zuckerberg stated, “That will be a fight we take on at some point” (Lev–Ram, 2011).

There is a problem with just deciding something is good for children because it is “part of the educational process.”  Just as we wouldn’t let children walk about town at night alone to learn what happens outside of the home after dark, why would we do the same here? While there are absolutely huge differences in the examples, the core is the same – just because its educational, doesn’t mean its right.

We joke that the paperwork and security checks are more daunting in order to adopt a dog from the ASPCA than it is to have a baby of your own. Or, more to the point of this post, there is a more challenging test to see if we are fit to drive a car than there is to see if we are fit to raise a child – of course there is none for the latter.

That is what makes this entire concept of access for youth even harder to get our arms around.  Most parents would want to believe their children are mature enough and more ready for access to sites like Facebook. Yet they have no way of keeping tabs on the situation or even being sure what their children might come across – much less educate them on the granular details of what they can come across on social networking sites.  Will the “Birds and the Bees” conversation be evolving in the 21st century to cover social networking as well?

There is a balance between too much regulation or restriction and the access and opportunity to make our own choices that we fight for as a community.  Hence, we have a conundrum because we have to recognize that we still need to protect our children (and I believe there should be protection in place even for those between 13 and 18) while still providing all opportunities for them to safely experience things.

When COPPA was devised, it was meant to ensure that information was not gathered on children under 13 and a byproduct was that they would be able to interact with on those sites with age-relevant content.  Back then, the communication was much more heavily directed at the user – with much fewer opportunities for user-generated content to be a part or the core of the content mix.  As we all know, the playing field has shifted. Responsibility needs to be assumed by all, but with a heavy weight on the parents. 

For those 7 of 10 parents who opened a Facebook account for their under-age children, let’s hope that they take responsibility for the “educational process” and not blame it on the companies maintaining those training grounds.  As for the companies – specifically Facebook – if we are going to fight to ensure access and less regulation, let’s really focus on meaningful education of both parents and children on privacy and social participation to ensure that the best choices for individuals are truly being taken.

Surely, the convergence of Media, Marketing and Youth and the speed at which that is evolving leaves us fully engaged in an “educational process” that has no end.

Valuing Brand Ambassadors

At the Digital Hollywood conference yesterday, there was a solid panel titled, Who’s Running Your Brand.  Of course, the main point of the panel was the fact that nowadays, much is left in the hands of fans.  Certainly, brands can do as much as possible to get their talking points and product information out, but the fans are gaining more and more control every day.  It doesn’t do a company any good to police what is being said and try to combat the bad press.  They should be doing whatever they can to enter the environment in a natural way.  The rules of “natural” differ slightly from vertical to vertical, but it should always be thought of as being an enabler, not a dictator or pusher.  In all ways, though, the natural thing is to be relevant and add value.

What many of the panelists talked about was the need to engage influential bloggers and social media trend-setters.  Each one had examples of how they had done it well or how others were doing it well.  There were also a couple of examples of how they were being done horribly – providing a reminder to not under-estimate influencers.

The biggest opportunity for brands to position their social is to engage or entice influencers (or even just active social participants) with opportunities to get something relevantly valuable in return.

For a time, there were incentives to engage that were sort of simple and dumb – “get this ticky-tacky item by participating” or “jump through these hoops for the chance to get something huge.”  Those things worked until there was too much of the same glutting the social market.  Influencers are smart AND have a lot to do in their lives, so they don’t just jump at any carrot that is put before them. But, in either case, they aren’t always simple, dumb or bad.  The determination of whether they are lame or not really relies on relevancy and the target user.  As a brand, you owe it to your fans to offer something of value if you want them to be ambassadors (and your actual product doesn’t lend itself to that all by itself.)

Some examples discussed were Fox Theatrical’s invitation of key X-Men bloggers to an event in Cannes where they were able to interview the cast and production team on the same level of the traditional outlets – leading to much more coverage and excitement than initially expected.  The same basic idea was used for the release of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – where more types of influencers were invited to meet with filmmakers to find out more about the film’s emotional core.  In the APES example, the film opened extremely well because of the buzz surrounding the fact that it was not just a sci-fi movie.  The same ideas had been mentioned for the music industry as well as for tires and other CPG brands.

In all examples, there was a true value add for people to participate.  It was not just a lazy offering in the hopes that people would bite and blog or tweet about it. Engaging and honest interactions between brands and influencers will lead to much bigger returns.  (We’ve already covered this in the blog from September 7th.)

They also refered to the program that Lenovo just launched targeting teenagers in the hopes that it will drive brand identity for future consumers.  In their Spacelab program, they are generating community and content by offering the opportunity for students to present their ideas for experiments in space.  Not only do the 2 winners have their experiments completed in space, but there are other prizes such as training at the Cosmonaut training center or flights on the zero-gravity planes.  This just launched, so only time will tell if it works, but it seems that they’ve offered something of real value to their participants that will drive higher engagement.

There are other examples where all it took was a moment of clear thinking and not a “rush-to-market” on a program that led to absolutely cost-effective fan and ambassador engagement.  The lack of proper consideration and planning is just plain dumb.

Quite a Reach Into Space and Into Consumers

It seems that someone is reaching toward the skies with an intense hope that people will care. When launching a new product or service, companies need to look at where their product falls within the bell curve of relevancy. Sometimes, the launch of something that might have seemed cool when a sector was really hot raises more questions when it is released in a murky landscape with the only thing possibly going for it is a “quasi-cool” factor. With technology trends and marketing gimmicks, the path to relevancy is even trickier.  Such is the case with Phillips & Co’s new product named Blue Marble – where they place QR codes on roofs of buildings for consumers to view via Google Earth and Google Maps.

First off, QR codes had a huge buzz a few years ago with very little in the way of returns.  The uptick in usage among consumers once they warmed up to QR codes never really happened.  It seems lie a matter of people not really understanding what QR codes really do and marketers not really giving a strong return for people who actually attempt to participate.  A Russel Herder study found that 72% of consumers had seen a QR code, but nearly 30% have no idea what it is.  A few weeks ago, I saw a cool QR code on Brick Lane in London that had the code made of a bunch of individual pictures.  Unfortunately, the code didn’t work for me. I generated more interest for it by standing there trying to get it to work than it might have on its own.

Close UpFull QR Code

Secondly, many people who are using Google Earth or Maps are looking for something specific.  While a number of campaigns have been executed with placement in both of these outlets (we’ve executed a few over the past three years) the participation is extremely low – with the only excitement possibly being from the vendors who built the campaign or the executives they were sold to.  To try to get users to do something ulterior to their original usage intent in this situation is a major challenge that, if successful, better provide something of real value.  Perhaps if that were to happen more consistently – if at all – we might see more of a reason to incorporate campaigns into these outlets.

Which leads us to Phillips & Co’s offer to paint these codes on the roof of buildings.  In a way, it is somewhat similar to selling a piece of property in the Everglades – it’s just not there.  The gimmick is fine and I imagine there will be buyers trying to get some traction off the buzz factor.  The cost for installation is relatively small, but that doesn’t count how much it might be to rent the rooftop space or build out the product users will see when scanning the code. But, there is no telling when the images will begin appearing within the system (believed to be within three months) and you also need to have something compelling if anybody should actually try to capture the code.

One of the major challenges with this type of technology is that its something new and some standards need to be met.  When the early adopters check something out and it’s not really cool, it can have a huge effect on the larger adoption.  When QR codes first started coming out a few years ago, vendors were talking about how cool the execution was without ensuring that the end product was as cool as the possibilities suggested.  A lot had to do with the technical challenges, but others had to do with the buzz about the new distribution point on its own without any care for what it was really distributing.

In this case, it’s a Phillips & Co came up with something that made more sense a while ago, but I fear it might be coming too late in the game.  It is really a stretch to get people to participate with QR codes posted in the real world, let alone within the digital world.  Maybe it is too early to discern whether QR codes will pick up the traction it needs to be anything more than a gimmick – and programming behind the codes will fill the gap between what is imagined and what is currently available. Perhaps the best client for these would be the actual companies who have large buildings with QR code programs in place already – where they would only have to pay the $8500 fee for placement and then the ability to say they are marketing to space.  And then they can wait for the Martians to come down with their code readers in hand.