Facebook Needs to Be Socially Responsible and Why Marketers Must Care

Respect Users’ Privacy As You Would Have Them Respect Yours

Facebook has a history of being cavalier when it comes to participants’ privacy. As an organization, their M.O. is to make sweeping modifications on their social media network and worry about users’ rights and concerns later.

This may have been acceptable back the organization’s early days, but now Facebook has over 800 million active users, of whom 75% are outside of the U.S.. In terms of size, Facebook would be the third largest country in the world, after China and India. As a result, Facebook has social responsibility.

Unfortunately, from a user perspective, there’s no user bill of rights or guidelines for what Facebook can or will do with your personal data – including tracking user interactions and movements on and off of the site. Information U.S. citizens would rightfully expect to be protected by their government!

Facebook’s latest round of enhancements have overstepped acceptable boundaries in terms of tracking users’ passive behavior such as reading something on Facebook or keeping track of where they go after they’ve left Facebook’s site. Technically savvy and engaged members of the social media community, notably Dave Winer,  have protested this move as overstepping the boundaries and an invasion of privacy. In real world terms, it’s as if Starbucks put GPS tracking chips into their coffee cups to determine where patrons went after leaving the store.

Neither Mark Zuckerberg nor any other marketer has the right to track my activity and/or cross-reference it with other users’ data for financial or business objectives. Further, it can’t be assumed that I’ve read the extensive terms and conditions and privacy statements written in language that even lawyers can’t comprehend. The result is that the average user clicks-through these agreements oblivious to the documents’ contents.

Marketers should care about Facebook’s move because, while this change may give them additional marketing input, they risk losing their prospects and customers’ trust. All marketers have a responsibility to be ethical in their actions and to respect prospects, customers and the public’s privacy and related personal information; which Facebook isn’t doing.

Here are seven ways every marketer can become more socially responsible on social media networks.

  1. Respect consumer and user privacy. Think beyond the present. Bear in mind that people may post pictures with children and others in ways that can have longer-term implications. Do you want future employers to see you drunk at a college party?
  2. Understand the issues surrounding user privacy. Know what you can and can’t track, not only from a legal perspective but also, from a user perspective. This may differ from one country to the next.
  3. Be open and transparent in your dealings with consumers, participants and the public. Provide them with an ability to discuss any concerns with a company representative, not just an email address. Bear in mind that if you don’t handle it, consumers may find a more public way of communicating which could result in a larger issue.
  4. Tell consumers what information you’re tracking, what you’re using it for and how long you’re retaining it. If credit card and/or other personal information is involved, explain how you’ve secured the data. With this type of information you should have a similar level of data security as a financial institution.
  5. Ask for consumers’ permission to use their information, not just their email address. Be clear about what you plan to use it for and how you acquired the information. Explain this in plain, easy-to-understand language, not legal mumbo-jumbo.
  6. Make only make ethical marketing offers. Don’t hide things in the small print. Remember every consumer has a media platform at their fingertips and they’re willing to use it, on your site, third party sites and social media. Don’t practice gotcha marketing, where consumers don’t understand what they’re committing to. No bait and switch.
  7. Provide methods for determining users at risk. This means that as an organization, you must be proactive in protecting your customers, participants and the public without overstepping the boundaries of trust. This means reaching out where you see people who are at risk and may need to talk to someone or get professional help to save a life. This is applies more to social media networks than other platforms.

In today’s connected world, marketers must build trust with their prospects, customers and the public. To this end, you must respect their personal data and privacy. This guiding principle should be put ahead of their business needs. To understand the implications of online interactions, think about how these actions would play out in the offline world.

How do you feel about Facebook’s changes and marketers’ social responsibility? Are there any other points that you’d add in terms of ethics?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Please read Dave Winer’s post, Facebook is scaring me!.

Photo credit: alancleaver_2000 via Flickr

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