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What’s Left That Is Private?

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The social media world has encroached upon our privacy in ways we’ve never considered before.  Usually, that’s meant Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg is just the most blatant, declaring that people don’t “care about privacy anymore.”

The truth is, many marketers have been secretly collecting, harvesting and selling customers’ data – from their own computers and elsewhere – prior to Facebook and since then.  It’s simply a matter of who pays attention, when they get caught, and what the penalties are.  Unfortunately, the repercussions are rarely an incentive for the next offenders to be discouraged, and so it goes again.  The next offenders violate at least as much privacy as the prior ones, collect data and profit from it until they are caught and punished, too.

Privacy issues go beyond the bounds of marketing the bounty of data scraping, however. The technology in this case moves so quickly, that not only can the law not keep up, but most people affected can’t keep up.  When default settings are placed in obscure locations and frequently reset with permissions that allow more and more sharing, such as facial recognition software of photos uploaded (and permanently stored thereafter, whether the photos are removed or not), it takes a while for people to realize what’s occurred, let alone object.

Many users choose to participate in location software programs, such as Foursquare and Gowalla, and voluntarily post where they are and what they are doing.  What all smart phone owners may not realize is that the GPS located in their phones often sends the same information to a variety of marketers.  The [I Agree] button depressed with each app downloaded often is a contract that sends the app designer a great deal of data from the phone, including one’s address book, calendar, GPS location information, and so forth.  A free app may cost in other ways . . . every time you use it.

Klout has recently come under public scrutiny for their duplicitous offer to delete accounts, since they were still monitoring data and ranking people with the same accounts, but simply not displaying the data on the “deleted” accounts.  In addition, Klout’s system of ranking people – who have registered or not – was discovered to include minor children, which incensed quite a few users.

The issues of anonymity and social media cross one another like they never have before, and bring up a multitude of situations, both personal and work-related.  As more and more situations arise, a great many of them head for the courts, where the law begins to adapt and get reinterpreted to fit new technology as it never has.

Until all of the legal policies are in place, it’s best to consider what your own personal and organizational policies will be, with regard to data collection, sharing, privacy, etc.  Even if you have a policy, it’s best to pull it out and review it.  If it’s more than two years old, chances are that situations could arise that wouldn’t have applied when your policies were conceived and written.  (e.g.  Does your policy even address situations of what can/can’t be posted on social media channels?  How to handle a problem posting there?  What about text messaging?)

In times like these, when technology changes so quickly, it’s best to be proactive instead of reactive.  Once a constituent feels that you’ve betrayed her trust, it’s not easily regained.
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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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The dangers of too much transparency

How Much (Did) You Depend on Facebook?

How Much (Did) You Depend on Facebook?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Typically when Facebook proclaims, “Here’s how we’ve changed,” users scratch their heads a bit, there’s a collective moan, then adaptation.  This time, organizations see a greater difference and are complaining louder.

Beyond merely joining the “I hate ___ changes in Facebook” page, nonprofits have noticed a very drastic effect to how frequently their pages get viewed in the lineup on their fans’ feeds.  For some, their stats have dropped to 1/10 of what they were.

Facebook’s response, as usual, has been to remain unavailable and let complaints fall on deaf ears, all the while reframing the despised changes as a positive, much like an eternal voicemail greeting that insists one must listen to the entire newly-revised message prior to making a selection, which was done “to better serve you.”  In both cases, there is no chance of ever speaking to a live human being to get a question answered.  (Please hold.)

While it’s true that simply showing up on someone’s fan page doesn’t mean they are dedicated to your cause, if you cannot get seen in the first place, engagement is a moot point.  Forcing someone to scroll several times farther to be able to view your post ensures that most fans won’t bother to go to that trouble . . . and therefore, won’t see what your organization is posting.  Couple that with Facebook removing the ability for an organization to send direct messages to its page’s fans, and your communication is significantly impaired.

So what is a nonprofit to do shortly before the busiest giving time of year?

First of all, if all of your marketing and communication efforts were resting squarely on the shoulders of Facebook, this was not a good thing to begin with.  Facebook has frequent changes in its policy, and has made it abundantly clear each time that the policy is their policy.  Whenever a conflict between Facebook and user arises, the user loses and Facebook reminds everyone:  the page is not yours, the content is not yours, the fans and friends are not yours.  Break a rule, and you can be suspended and lose it all without warning, period!

This is not the platform you want to do the majority of your business on, where you do all of the work and answer to someone else.  Why give them the master keys and obey all of their rules?  Facebook should merely be one place of many where you maintain a presence . . . but always remind your supporters of where your home base is located, so that they will gravitate toward your turf.

Facebook’s Causes fundraising component is a good example of this principle.  While some organizations use the Facebook fundraising app – for birthdays or other events – in practice, it actually robs the nonprofit from accomplishing more than it otherwise would, and not just in terms of funds:

•     Because the form isn’t customizable, all nonprofits are stuck with the same basic form.  It can’t be modified to tell donors that “$100 will help pay for an hour’s worth of tutoring,” or anything mission-related to your organization.  Also, the ask amounts are too low for some organizations, but what-you-see-is-what-you-get, which is often a lower average gift than if the donor went to the nonprofit’s own online giving form.
•     Facebook gives the donor the option of not passing on their contact information to the receiving nonprofit, so further cultivation and/or even acknowledgment is often rendered impossible.
•     Because the actual donation is processed and receipted by a second party, even when a thank you is issued by the nonprofit, “receipt” language for tax deduction purposes has to be removed, which can be confusing for the donor, who may not understand that their gift wasn’t a direct donation to your organization.
•     Even with this much smaller gift, the processing organization takes 4.75% of each donation(s).
•     When the donation app is displayed next to the number of fans, it implies that a very, very small number of supporters actually give, and that among them, they give very little.  This will encourage others who see it to then assume the typical average gift is very low when they respond to a future appeal.

Of course, most people agree that a major motivating factor behind Facebook’s redesign is to push businesses into generating more advertising revenue for Facebook.  Before sinking a portion of your budget into but one sliver of your overall marketing package, consider the other options you have first.

Certainly no nonprofit has the resources to put its message on every social media channel out there, but reaching out to a few makes good sense, as does integrating them, such as cross referencing your photos, videos and blog posts among Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and your own website.  In addition, although you can’t be on all channels, it may be time to add one or two, such as StumbleUpon, Google+, or even some LinkedIn groups, depending on your population.

It is absolutely essential that nonprofit marketers not forget to stick to the tried-and-true basics that have helped them keep in touch with their constituents thus far and raise much needed funds, however.  Adding new techniques does not mean abandoning previous ones.

For most nonprofits, direct mail continues to raise the majority of annual giving funds, and a recent Pew survey showed that emailing is one of the most prominent online activities still conducted.  Although social media has made significant strides in recent years, it doesn’t come close to achieving the time spent online that email does.

Make certain that your online eforms, event registrations, reply cards, etc. ask for emails, and that you regularly communicate with your constituents via email, as this is your communication venue, under your control – and your list.  While doing so, however, add the cross-channel approach of including your various social media buttons, so that people can engage with your organization as they prefer.

As you incorporate your strategy to expand into other venues, check your google analytics and see if as large a portion of your traffic continues to come from Facebook – or any single source.  It’s always best to have a healthy variety of sources, so do your best to expand.

Facebook’s latest policy change can serve as a wake up call for nonprofits, reminding them that, although nobody controls the entire world of marketing, it’s best to take control in the areas you can, rather than completely hand over the keys to another company and hope for the best.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

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TMI – The Chicken Or The Egg?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

When someone asks, “How did this start – everybody’s private business being so public?” a lot of fingers get pointed.  People interested in civil liberties will claim that corporate lobbyists pushed through laws, allowing more access to individuals’ information.

On the other hand, one only needs to watch an evening of the poorly named “reality” shows to see that there must be some truth to Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that “people aren’t interested in privacy anymore.”  It seems that nearly anyone will debase themselves publicly for a price and 15 minutes of fame – or less.  Often, they don’t need a price . . .  just an audience will do.

Just as the constant use of a brand as an everyday term will water down its meaning, rendering it useless, so too is privacy diluted in meaning if  we pull out all the stops and leave nothing to the imagination or have no barriers whatsoever on which information is to be considered “off limits” to the general population.

This isn’t just a social media issue, but ventures out into many areas of customer service that concerns constituents in a variety of venues regarding data collection and its relevance to the actual transactions:

•     Vance* objects to gas pumps that require him to enter his zip code first at the pump.  “They claim it’s for ‘security purposes,’ but when I go inside to pay instead, they take my credit card without requiring my zip code . . . or ID, so how secure is that?”  Vance says he makes a point not to frequent gas stations with this requirement.

•     Wynona* concurs, and says that when various cashiers ask for her zip code prior to ringing up her purchases, she always replies with, I don’t want to participate. “Sometimes, though,” Wynona says, “The cashier will be so surprised at my response that they don’t know how to proceed.  They’ll explain it to me, as though I don’t understand, or something, and when I re-explain to them that I’m not going to, they get a deer in the headlights look before figuring out how to enter a fictional zip code that allows them to proceed ringing up my purchase.  It’s sad, really.”  Wynona doesn’t usually shop at such places on a repeat basis either.

•     Albert* makes a point not to sign his credit cards.  He feels that it is offering up his signature to a potential thief to easily forge, and knows that if his card is stolen, he would only be liable for the first $50.  “Most merchants don’t bother looking, anyway, except during the holidays, and then they ask for a photo ID to verify that I’m me,” he says.  He considers these “security measures” to be a joke.

•     Bertha* recently learned of how much geotracking smartphones are doing of their customers, and wondered if there isn’t even more happening than is being disclosed.  While she was on vacation recently, she visited relatives who watched a great deal of satellite television – programs she typically doesn’t view.  Bertha spent the time in the same room (with her smart phone) either visiting with relatives, catching up on work, or playing her favorite game on her phone.  By the end of the week, she noticed a stark difference in the ads that came up during her handheld’s game.  It was promoting television shows on the network her relatives had been watching that week.  She had never seen these ads promoted during this game before.  “I don’t mean to sound paranoid or delusional,” Bertha said, “But honestly – I wouldn’t put it past Apple or Google!”

•     Cecil* recently moved to the area and was setting up an appointment with a new doctor.  As they took down his insurance information, name, address, etc., the receptionist also asked him for his social security number.  He balked at this and asked why it was necessary, only to be told, “for identification purposes.”  When he persisted in knowing the reason that the doctor’s office needed this information, the receptionist narrowed the field and said that “the last four digits” would suffice, actually.  Once again, Cecil insisted that his social security number was not related or needed to him being a new patient, and required an explanation.  The receptionist didn’t even respond to his question, and instead simply moved on to the next question on the form.

•     Diane* has met with similar superfluous questions when it comes to medical personnel, and she feels that it is often targeted toward women more than men.  “Very nearly always, I am asked about my marital status on medical questionnaires, and I always refuse to answer.  It’s archaic and irrelevant to my medical health,” she says.  They don’t ask for ethnicity or religion, so why marital status?  That’s not the same as emergency contact.  I’ve even had someone argue and try to insist that I answer this question.  Needless to say, I didn’t return there.”

Each of these individuals were all keenly aware of the fact that their data was being solicited, tracked and harvested by various vendors, and they objected – but it’s the exception, not the rule.  Most people are unaware of their default settings and to what extent their data is revealed to others.

More commonly, tracking is being embedded – almost seamlessly and invisibly – into something disguised as philanthropic, so that people give permission for their data to be harvested without even realizing it.  Vendors are now trying to slap the word charity on their marketing and having the general public peddle their wares to their friends via social media.  If it starts with a nonprofit promoting it, all the better, companies figure.

Take care what causes – and channels – you support, lest a scandal come back later to bite you.  Even if the public didn’t realize what a campaign was on its face, they will care a great deal about what was behind the mask when all is revealed.

More people DO care about their privacy being guarded than the Zuckerbergs of the world would lead us to believe, and trust lost isn’t easily won back.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Similar posts

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Is Direct Mail Dead?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Is Direct Mail Dead?  Oh, please!  Of course not!  Should you continue mailing appeals, notices, etc. to your constituents?  Well, yes, but probably not exactly in the same way you have been.  Are you tracking your responses/income per mailing over time, ROI, CPM, etc.?  What about A/B split testing?  It’s important to know what is working best for your particular population and adapt to their needs.  For example, perhaps it’s time for your mailed newsletter to become an e-newsletter, your mail appeals to incorporate a direct donation hyperlink, and so on.

Anytime something new appears, there’s a story (or several) asking if the trend previous to it is “dead,” just because this NEW trend has made some headway.  As a number-crunching geek, I always cringe over these ignoramuses!  Most often, it’s either a reporter looking for a tunnel-vision lead on a [non] story, or someone presenting a talk that is pushing their product or agenda, to the exclusion of everything else.

Let’s see . . . We’ll use a hypothetical example, just to show some basic math here:

If population A previously had 90% of the market, and population B (GASP!) doubled their take from 10% to 20% of the share…

Is population A now “dead”?!

Uh . . . no.  That still leaves them with 80% of the market – see?

But it IS a remarkable story on how population B is growing, isn’t it?  Well done, B!  They are setting a trend that savvy people will continue to watch.  Most of the media, however, will jump at the chance to declare A dead, simply because B has emerged.

This is true in many aspects of society, beyond fund raising trends. As soon as a smaller, previously unknown or ignored segment begins to gain some momentum, it can be hailed as the next greatest thing (e.g., Facebook), or, in cases of ignorance and fear, treated as something to be cautioned about, such as women, Latinos or African Americans “taking over,” etc.

It’s an interesting exercise to google the phrase “is dead” and see what turns up.  I will concede I’m pretty sure that Michael Jackson (and Elvis) are, in fact, dead.  And, I’ll even be willing to grant the authors who said that all privacy on Facebook “is dead,” – though technically, I never believed it existed in the first place, so . . .  But that’s a trifle I don’t wish to quibble over.

Among the items that various authors have currently (or previously) declared as dead:

e-mail
MySpace – (If you agree, I recommend reading danah boyd’s article and blog)
Facebook apps
RSS
Twitter, for various reasons (2008 and 2009)
Blogging
Google
mobile weba rebuttal
the Kindlea pro & con argument

Some of these “dead” items on the list may be things that you have yet to use – or at least you still are finding to be effective at your organization. Just as your parents told you not to follow what the crowd deemed “cool” simply because someone declared it to be; likewise, don’t throw out a perfectly good program that works for you and your organization, due to an article in a snazzy magazine/blog.

If direct mail makes up 60% of your income – when it used to be 75% – that’s still 60% you want to pay attention to.  Obviously, you need to pay attention to the other 40% that’s most likely going to continue to grow; however, nobody can afford to ignore nearly 2/3 of their income!  It certainly is not dead!

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

(Why) should my org get involved in social media?

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Many people wonder if social media is just a flash in the pan, or worth the investment for their organization.

Some of the questions I hear when I teach seminars on the topic:

“It doesn’t seem to raise much money…So, what is it good for, exactly?”

“Will my constituents become engaged with my sites/pages online?”

Like anything else, you reap what you sow.  If you send only one direct mail piece annually, your return will be minimal.  If you post to your social media site only occasionally (and always ask for money), you’ll have very little engagement.

Jay Frost puts it succinctly when he says that NGOs pondering whether or not they should be involved in social media “is like waiting in the roadside diner on Route 1, Nowheresville as a superhighway is constructed five miles away.

Facebook has now overtaken Google as the #1 site for web traffic, for the week ending March 13th, which should assist you in convincing the powers that be, when arguing about the need to go where your audience is now residing.  Projections place Facebook surpassing Google by a clear margin soon.

Weekly Market Share of Visits to Facebook.com & Google.com

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