More transparency and higher awareness of how data is used can only be good.
June 13, 2018 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As the Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to weigh heavily on Facebook and other social media platforms, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the real cost -- in personal information, not cash -- of their “free” participation in online interactions.
Similarly, companies and brands that rely on social media interactions and consumer goodwill are beginning to better grasp the true complexity of maintaining those relationships.
Let’s discuss the three main lessons we should take away from our observations of such unethical behavior.
1. Awareness is the beginning.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations certainly convinced consumers of the potentially far-reaching consequences of sharing personal information with third parties. But they also impacted the brands that depend on direct social media contact with consumers.
So far, much of the commentary on the Cambridge Analytica scandal has focused on the risks posed by seemingly unscrupulous and opportunistic third-party data harvesters. Relatively little attention, however, has been devoted to a potentially broader threat to ecommerce: the chilling effect of viewing all “third parties” in the same way.
Whether it is the EU’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in full force or the downstream consequences of recent US Congressional hearings into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it’s increasingly important for companies to fully understand how social media interactions with mass consumer bases actually work in a technical sense and to question how they can be more responsible stewards of their customers’ data.
2. Fair exchange increases consumer willingness.
To simply stop collecting and using consumer data would be both unrealistic and counterproductive.
As technology has evolved -- along with customers’ expectations -- businesses have had to become more agile. They are adopting increasingly sophisticated methods of gathering and analyzing customer data, which enables their marketing teams to fine-tune their sales strategies based on genuine insights from individuals.
Even beyond sales, this type of real-time interaction between a brand and its consumers has profoundly changed how companies and consumers interact, particularly affecting business areas like troubleshooting and loyalty programs.
As these interactions have increased in number, consumers have become more comfortable with the data footprints they leave. One recent survey indicated that 87 percent of online shoppers are willing to trade personal information for better shopping experiences. This openness has allowed marketers and consumers to develop more personalized relationships, which, of course, are based on in-depth access to consumer data.
Done well, this customization is a win-win for businesses and customers. However, the recent events at Facebook have thrown a wrench in the works. A subset of bad third-party actors, such as Cambridge Analytica, has created an overlooked ripple effect that affects any company working with social media.
Consequently, Facebook has frozen the ongoing development work of thousands of third-party apps that access its users and their data. This means that hundreds of well-known brands, including the trusted vendors that help those brands manage their customer interactions, have also had to halt or limit the improvement, support and maintenance of their social media accounts.
Despite its serious impact on businesses, this suspension is not unwarranted. Long before the Cambridge Analytica story broke, there were clear signs that consumers were beginning to rail against the cavalier way some organizations were treating their personal data.
An SAP study from 2017 reported that most consumers believed brands should operate more transparent data-use policies. CRM expert Vision Critical recently published studies showing that the majority of consumers want brands to tell them how their personal information will be used if they choose to share it.
Under the circumstances, everyone would agree that more transparency and higher awareness of how data is used can only be good.
3. Adaptability is key.
Some companies that work with social media data are better prepared than others. The most prepared are those whose product can be quickly adapted to a rapidly evolving regulatory environment and changing consumer sentiment.
The vast majority of major companies rely on third party platforms to handle their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of customer social media interactions. Many of these third-party vendors have years of expertise, which allows them to adapt to new normals.
There are critical differences, not only between the legitimate third-party vendors and the illegitimate data harvesters, but also among the legitimate vendors themselves. Niche debates over business models -- like whether marketers and customer service providers should choose a custom software platform over a SaaS system with a single code base -- are becoming increasingly loud.
While custom-built software can be more precisely tailored to a company’s needs, it can also be slower to adapt to evolutions in the market, since each instance of custom coding has to be individually upgraded every time a change is necessary.
This greater agility has fueled SaaS platforms’ ascendance in IT communities over the last decade. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, however, this quality will become an increasingly important asset to any company working with social media data as media outlets and regulators mandate significant changes.
A SaaS platform with a single code base, such as Hootsuite and Spredfast, would be able to implement these new stipulations relatively quickly. Highly customizable platforms, which have historically been offered by providers like Verint and Sprinklr, may have greater difficulty bringing large brands’ code bases up to speed.
Going forward, businesses will increasingly need to have a social media product and platform that can be updated rapidly and reliably in order to maintain consumer trust and to deliver a valuable personalized experience in exchange for data.
If businesses dealing with social media data take away one lesson from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it should be the urgent need to move to a more authentic and transparent model with customers at the heart of the process and never as an afterthought.