Why Big Data Isn’t Big Brother

This is for all the little old ladies who are still afraid of their VCR, and for the conspiracy theorists who think black helicopters circle their house. There’s no doubt, there is an enormous amount of personal information about you on the Internet, in public records and in a thousand databases across the globe.

One bastion of personal information is Facebook, which has more than 900 million active users who self-disclose details such as their full name, age, employer, hobbies and political affiliation. To allay concerns about Internet privacy, Facebook enables its members to select their own privacy settings, although the site’s default settings often remain public (Facebook page administrators can’t view data that you make private). As such, Internet privacy policies designed to protect users aren’t fail-safe against hackers, or users’ own lack of knowledge about or application of them.

However, with risk comes reward. For all the flak Internet privacy gets, there are many benefits and perks for consumers who educate themselves and opt-in, says Al DiGuido, former CEO of Zeta Interactive and Epsilon Interactive, and former publisher of Computer Shopper magazine.

From targeted ads to coupon savings on your favorite products, savvy marketers are using your social media profiles and activities to build brand engagement and gain your ultimate loyalty.

“The goal of any marketer trying to build a solid relationship with a customer is focused on leveraging profile data to provide their consumer with the most relevant information possible,” DiGuido says. “We have all seen numerous examples of marketers who will send us offers via email that have no contextual relevance to our preferences and/or behavior characteristics. Yet study after study has validated that consumers desire relevancy in their messaging from brands.”

Social media profile marketing relies on your ‘Likes’ to deliver brand-related content. When a Facebook user “Likes” their favorite clothing brand or local clothing boutique, they establish a two-way relationship. For the consumer, they get an inside look at new products in stores, upcoming sales and special discounts. The retailer, in turn, learns more about their customers’ age range, gender and geographic location. They both engage in real-time market research, where consumers can give instant feedback to brands and retailers can react to current events and trends with their fans.

With that said, the clothing store Gap isn’t looking at your Facebook wall to see what you did last weekend. However, a small boutique with a close relationship with its customers can look at a fan’s public profile and see that she’s recently become engaged and would likely be looking for dresses in the coming months for engagement parties, receptions and rehearsal dinners. That smart marketer isn’t going to flood her inbox with “Congratulations! Come shop now!” messages, but might offer its personal shopping services or after-hours dress-fitting appointments for their best customers, like her.

Consumers have little time to waste in their communication, DiGuido says. “The promise of the Internet has always been the ability to ‘get more done’ in a shorter period of time. Consumers now expect that marketers will have learned about them through their interaction with the brand and will provide a more relevant and efficient communications dialogue moving forward.” When done right, marketers can leverage Big Data to provide you with offers and information that truly match your needs. (Read more about Big Data and its benefits for small businesses on SUCCESS.com.) 


DiGuido’s Tips for Reviewing Privacy Policies

* You should NEVER provide Personal Identifiable information online to a brand that you don't trust implicitly.

* Consult the privacy policies of all brands with whom you have relationships and make sure you read the parts that deal with privacy and security of your data and how the brands will deal with this information.

* Opt-out of a brand’s privacy policies that make you uncomfortable and reconsider your business relationship. If their privacy policy doesn’t seem above board, might that be representative of their entire operation?


Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for SUCCESS.com. Before joining SUCCESS magazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.

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