What a transparent Facebook would look like.


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Do you think the idea that Amazon can recommend books, videos and products to you based on your interests is a good thing? Do you find it useful that your favorite retailer’s latest deal shows up on your Facebook page or your favorite news site?


On the other hand, do you find the notion that any enterprise that’s interested can access your Facebook profile information you intended to be seen only by friends and family, as well as your detailed web history, a bit creepy?

This is the battle around “Behavioral Targeting” that’s been going on since web sites have had the ability to plant “cookies” on your computer, starting way back in the earliest days of the Internet. Today, that battle has raged to a head. On one side, marketers are saying behavioral targeting is not only basically benign, but is also necessary to deliver “relevant” messages to consumers. On the other side, consumer groups are pushing for legislation curtailing behavioral targeting, stating the case that acquiring so much data about an individual is a little too Big-Brothery.

Into this battle has waded Microsoft. The heavyweight software company recently announced its newest version of its cornerstone web browser, Internet Explorer, will ship with the “Do Not Follow” option already checked. Needless to say, this has online marketers freaking out. With all that has been invested in data mining systems and intelligence, to think a single default setting could render the bulk of it worthless has led to much public hand-wringing.

Microsoft’s move, rather than being viewed as a betrayal to the entire behavioral targeting community, should be viewed as an inevitable development. To understand it, take a trip with me up to the 30,000 foot level.

If there is a buzzword that sums up a best practice for commercial success on the web, it would be “transparency”. When social media gurus talk about best practices on Facebook, etc., one issue that often come us is “transparency”–about being forthright with customers and having a strategy that is about “helping” rather than “selling” through these channels. To use them for deeper engagement, not as yet another venue to push intrusive messages the fan/customer didn’t ask for.

Ironic, isn’t it, that Facebook’s (and the rest of the web, for that matter) entire ad model is based on the century-old “intrusion” model–to “sneak” messages in front of users who didn’t ask for them. The fact that these have been deemed as being “of interest” to the consumer is irrelevant. Just as consumers have rebelled against intrusion in other media by using new technologies (DVRs, pop-up blockers, etc.) and by paying a premium to avoid them, they are now moving the fight to social networks. Microsoft’s announcement shouldn’t be pilloried by advertisers and agencies; it should be viewed as a challenge to embrace the “transparency” of the web.

People aren’t naive. They know online venues must make money in order to continue to deliver meaningful content and useful functionality. And they understand there’s a price to be paid for “free access.” If social networks (and web sites as well) were to acknowledge this, they might be able to wean themselves from the teet of the “intrusive marketing” model.

Here’s one example of how that might look. Let’s say that rather than clutter up the right side of your Facebook page with various ads, sponsored stories, etc., Facebook was to deliver ONE ad to each visitor which said “We rely on your support to provide service. Please click here and see some offers we’ve assembled we think you’ll find attractive. Thanks.”

Yes, this is still “behavioral targeting.” But it would be done in a transparent way that would give more control to Internet users other than “opting out.” Such a model should keep marketers satisfied as well. If these “behavioral offers” were indeed good enough, relevant enough, and worthy of sharing, I could imagine engagement rates and conversion rates to be similar to the pitiful click-through rates (if not higher) on most Facebook advertising now. Plus every visit would be an opt-in.

The currency of the web is transparency. To attempt to mislead or withhold important information from your audience is abound to suffer serious blowback. If behavioral marketers continue to cloak their efforts, future developments will make Microsoft’s browser setting look like small potatoes.

Embrace transparency. Before it is thrust upon you.

Posted by Mickey

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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