The Wild Wild West of Social Media

I recently completed a course on Web Analytics. And, although I have been working in the social media field for a while, after spending the time to really understand the full range of tools that are available, I was struck by just how much information can simply be gleamed directly from the web about buyer behavior, one’s own company and one’s competitors. As a marketer and market researcher, I am thrilled by all that I can learn on-line and the diversity of things I can monitor or listen to. But, I have to admit that sometimes it does give me pause.

I remember how much time and effort it took to get data using traditional market research methods. Perhaps one of the good things about that world were that the people we surveyed knew they were being questioned and their answers used for research. Similarly, the people that came to our focus groups knew they were being watched behind the mirror. While this may have been a negative in that we sometimes witnessed contrived behaviors or heard socially desirable response, we erred on the side of informed consent. The world of social media is much different. We observe behavior in a more natural setting. It is almost like we are sitting in someone’s living room just listening in. In the era of reality TV, this does not seem strange. But, the folks in reality TV, for the most part, understand that there are cameras pointed at them. Does the social media using public understand the power of web analytics…I suspect not.

The ability to track behavior and monitor the online conversation is probably greater than most people realize. We gladly accept free Gmail accounts from Google. Do we realize that by doing so we allow them to search through what we are writing? Similarly, we gladly accept free accounts on Facebook and in turn allow ourselves to be searched, advertised to and content analyzed. While we do need passwords to enter our accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn, do we actually expect them to be private.. or do we simply not think about it?

In the direct marketing world, opt in and opt out rules have prevented some of the abuses created by spamming and other practices. I wonder what type of guidelines or laws we will see going forward pertaining to the gathering and use of social media data? Privacy is already a big issue online as the reaction to a recent move by Facebook attested to. I suspect this area will continue to evolve. It will probably take only one malicious high profile action to create a very public call to action. In the era of viral messaging, it does seem that no bad deed stays hidden for too long.

What I hope to do going forward is to use this blog is enlighten folks not only about wide array of marketing and research tools that are out there, but also about the rules or best practices that are evolving over time to bring some structure to the often chaotic social media world. It is not quite the Wild Wild West, but then again, I am not sure all the accoutrements of civilization have arrived either. Please watch this space and let me know what types of things you see on the horizon. I am listening!!

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