The Internet went into a frenzy earlier this week when Facebook took steps to require people to use its separate Messenger app for private messaging, instead of using the feature that was part of previous versions of Facebook's primary mobile app. Users were upset by the requirement to download the app for messages, but what drew the most ire from the Web was false information on the permissions Facebook's Messenger app requested of user phone data.
Misinformation spread like wildfire that Facebook would be accessing private data from users, but as it turned out Facebook's Messenger app wasn't requesting anything outrageous after all. It was too late.
The Web overreacted. It's unfortunate that misinformation caused this kind of backlash, but we've come to expect that of the Internet. What it also showed, however, was just how nervous many people are when it comes to their data.
Can we blame them?
Trust has eroded online. Facebook conducted a study that manipulated the feeds of almost 700,000 users to see how the changes affected emotions. OkCupid performed other experiments arguing that that's how web companies operate, and in many ways, that's true. Ads follow users around online based on what they've done on various websites, and users aren't sure why or how.
Then there are examples when providing information can really help users in ways they understand.
The new Foursquare operates by monitoring user locations and providing recommendations on where they should go based on their behavior. It involves exchanging data for value.
People Know Their Data is Valuable
An understanding that online activities create digital footprints that can be tracked and leveraged is taking hold among users. And in a Post-Snowden era in which people understand anything may be monitored at any time, marketers should tread carefully.
It's on marketers to strike a careful balance at a time when how to leverage user data isn't entirely clear.
We're just beginning to scratch the surface of how user data can be leveraged to achieve business objectives, but if we don't respect users and they become wary and clamp down on their data, we'll have already done all we can.
Marketers must instill trust and show respect for users. This means making the value exchange clear to users. Explain why they should share their data and what they're getting for it. Show them how their data will be used, and that doesn't mean an explanation in the form of a long legal document — make it simple. And give them control. Make them know and feel that they are in the driver's seat and can take over whenever they want.
People are concerned, and given the power held by the likes of Facebook, Google and others, it's understandable. As marketers, we have a lot of power, but if abused, that power can go away quickly.