Another day, another user data controversy.
Facebook’s recent roll out of its new messenger app provoked a flurry of headlines ranging from Is Facebook’s Messenger App Evil? to the more measured Don’t Freak Out About the Facebook Messenger App.
Understanding what Facebook did wrong will help you collect social data and reap the benefits of truly understanding your user base.
So, why did Facebook cause a data stir? Users were alarmed over what seemed to be intrusive permission and data-sharing requirements. Already irritated by having to download a separate app, users disliked granting the app permission to access their camera and microphone, identity, contacts, telephone, location, etc.
Some have declined to download, while others have grumbled as they downloaded.
This, despite the fact that Facebook’s permission and data-access requests are no different from the regular app.
Data gathering – often referred to as “data fracking” or “data scraping” by its detractors – has been greatly maligned. Social data collection, in particular, has attracted a lot of heat. Let’s start with the why.
Why Would a Company Want to Collect Social Data?
Companies want to collect social data in order to accurately understand their users. Data collection has become all the craze in the recent past, but how useful is it if it’s not truthful? According to BlueResearch, 88% of people admit that they have provided false information on a registration form.
So, the main benefit of social data is that is usually more accurate. The data comes right from a user’s social profile, giving companies a much better understanding of their user base.
But, with all this hoo-ha over data collection, we seem to have lost sight of the fundamental rules of engagement. Therefore, this might be a good time to go back to the basics and learn my two “rules of thumb” when it comes to data collection.
1. Consent Is Not “Optional”
There’s an important distinction to be made between two key methods of collecting user social data.
Many consumer data companies trawl the internet and aggregate data from information posted publicly, which they then sell to interested parties.
While this remains contentious and is the subject of much debate, public – that is, published – material is largely considered fair game.
Privacy activists remain concerned that users aren’t well-informed on this and don’t even expect their social network pages to be “scraped.” Others point out that users always have the option to choose the strictest privacy options available.
I’d say the jury is very much out on that, and we should expect continued regulatory interest and a tightening of the rules, even if centered on further educating social media users about what going public means in terms of the activities of third-party data collection firms.
Another way to access user social data is by offering social login on a website. This allows users to register and sign in to sites using their existing social network account IDs, such as for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
When a user chooses to log in with their Facebook account, Facebook sends a message saying “Company X would like to access your name, birthdate, email, and country (or whatever data points the company would like to access). Are you okay with this?”
The difference between the two methods is that users explicitly consent to share data via social login. The process is entirely transparent, and if the user doesn’t want to share that data, they can back out.
Now, of course, as the CEO of a social login provider, I am nothing less than a total fan of social login, but I’ve always been very clear that it’s a tool to connect with users. It’s not a tool to trick users out of data they don’t want to share.
Users should, rightly, be in control of the information they share. Not only that, businesses must, by law, get consent before they can access data via registration forms, social login, and the like.
Facebook’s mistake wasn’t trying to get access; after all, they wanted to roll out a superior product. Their mistake was failing to communicate why they were requesting permissions and access to data in order to do so.
2. Transparency Is the Key
If users trust you, they will share their information with you as long as you are transparent and upfront about how you intend to use it.
“People are much more comfortable living their lives online and sharing information now, but they are much more sensitive to, and demand, greater transparency. You should provide them with everything they want and be transparent about why you want their information, what you will do with it, and, importantly, how it will benefit them – the consumer.”
Often overlooked, companies should see data collection as a two-way street. Of course, businesses benefit by getting their products in front of the right users, but there are significant upsides for consumers, too.
Let your users know you will be using social data to improve your products and services, keep in touch with their expectations, gather honest feedback, engage in one-to-one conversations with them, and, of course, better predict future consumer demands.
If you don’t, you’ll lose out.
“Users are becoming more jaded and cynical and they have many choices these days. If they don’t trust your organization and if you aren’t sufficiently transparent, they have many other places to go. You don’t want lack of trust and transparency to become an impediment to growth,”
What’s next is more data.
Generation Y will overtake Baby Boomers in the workplace very soon, and Gen Y is all about social media. Their understanding of data protection and sharing will be far more sophisticated than that of any generation ever before, and online businesses need to get on top of that now.
Companies also will need to stop asking for large amounts of data in one fell swoop. Instead, build a relationship with the user first by asking for little pieces of data over time.
This isn’t the data equivalent of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am.” Take your time to establish trust.
As I said before, it’s a two-way street, and savvy businesses understand they need users to grant them their data in order to efficiently compete.
In a recent interview for our blog, Jason Keath, CEO of social media education firm Social Fresh, offered his predictions for the future of data collection:
“Companies will continue to invest in data, innovate in data collection and spend money on it. Intelligent monitoring and data – much of which comes from social media and users’ social data – already informs many business decisions, and that’s not going away anytime soon.”
He’s absolutely right, but I’d add one thing:
The companies that will come out on top will be those that gather data in a transparent fashion, get their users’ trust first, and ask for information over time.
About the Author: Rakesh Soni is CEO and co-founder of LoginRadius, the rapidly-expanding social platform provider. LoginRadius is primarily focused on helping companies of all sizes use social login, social data, and social sharing tools to engage, understand, and market to users. They currently serve more than 120,000 websites globally.