With great online power comes great responsibility

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The internet was going to revolutionize business. Free information and exchange of ideas were the most visible early benefits. Then tools and platforms arrived that allowed users to communicate, articulate and access content more quickly and across a wider geography than ever before. We don’t search anymore, we Google. We can communicate with anyone, at any time, on various platforms like Skype, Zoom or Facebook Live, among others.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/09/2018 (1485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The internet was going to revolutionize business. Free information and exchange of ideas were the most visible early benefits. Then tools and platforms arrived that allowed users to communicate, articulate and access content more quickly and across a wider geography than ever before. We don’t search anymore, we Google. We can communicate with anyone, at any time, on various platforms like Skype, Zoom or Facebook Live, among others.

Companies built websites that evolved from online brochures to online catalogues and other interactive tools designed to improve your web experience.

As marketers, we must responsibly manage our use of the wide array of tools available. There can be a strong temptation to use the newfound data for different reasons than people have given you permission for. And this is where problems can arise.

The recent uproar about the amount of data Facebook was collecting is just the tip of the iceberg. What people, and many companies, that access these platforms do not really know is that their personal data and click preferences are being manipulated to track and recommend beyond anything humans have ever experienced. Companies have sold your data to other companies, so they could target you with “great offers,” many times for something that you probably don’t need.

Is your primary strategy to drive sales through coupons and discounts? Consider the impact of Groupon on the many companies that signed on to this service only to have their best customers adjust their spending behaviours to only use the coupons. Restaurants and other retailers started losing money because they adjusted their customers’ purchase behaviour.

Did you use Groupon? What were your results?

For companies that are buying customer clicks, you must take special care to know the environment your ad is placed in. In 2017, the Times of London uncovered that many ads for organizations, like charities and cruise companies, were placed on Nazi, porn and terrorist websites. This occurred without the companies knowing it was happening. When someone clicked on those ads, the advertiser had to pay the site for hosting their ad.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble were unwittingly funding terrorist and porn sites.

YouTube and Google, among the other big web companies, all pledged to fix this problem. In April 2018, the Sun newspaper in the U.K. confirmed the same situation happened again.

But wait, there’s more! Earlier this year, Facebook and Twitter had to publicize their actual number of users had been inflated due to fake accounts and bots. Advertisers were paying for supposed exposure to these “persons.” This builds from the situation in Australia in 2017, where Facebook claimed to reach 1.7 million more 15-to-39-yearolds than actually lived in the country.

Are you paying for people that don’t exist? Are you unknowingly supporting vile organizations? Are you doing anything about this?

As an advertiser, you need to have confidence and trust in the location of your ad and the people you are reaching. Never did you see such placement issues happen in newspaper ads. The local television and radio stations are also safe havens in this regard because you can easily see or hear where your ad is placed. A children’s toy manufacturer would never have mistakenly booked an ad in Playboy in the ’60s and ’70s. The ad industry has measurements that have been used for decades. While not 100 per cent accurate, they provide a consistent measurement and the entire industry accepts the methodology and tools used. This is not so in the digital realm.

Parents can readily check the shows their children watch or listen to and the articles being read. Parents know what other program and advertising material surrounds what is being consumed by their children.

Unless you are looking over your child’s shoulder, this is not the case on the web.

If you are truly a socially responsible organization, you need to know exactly where your ads are being placed. In traditional media, this is called a proof of performance, so you know where every ad was placed.

Users must also be aware of what data companies are sharing and for what reason. I have submitted data and later tried to delete my account. And, on several occasions, I have received material that could only have come from the data I supposedly deleted.

This is worse than not being able to clear your browsing history. Your responsibilities as a consumer and user of these various platforms have increased with the new tools used to aggregate, consolidate and track you.

Bob Hoffman, the ad contrarian, rightly asks, “What’s more important — the privacy rights of individuals or the convenience of marketers?”

Marketers must take the lead in establishing how you and your company will collect and use data. Remember to always keep the customer at the centre of your decision-making. When you do, you are likely to be considered a good company and steward of the information you collect. If you choose a course of action for short-term gain, the likelihood is that it won’t lead to long-term success.

Tim’s Bits: Not everything on the web is bad or evil. There are many great sites, wonderful tools and opportunities to share ideas and help the world become a better place. Are you honest with your customers about how you use their data? Is your staff knowledgeable and able to stand up in support of your online principles and values? Are you careful with the messaging and tools used so your company is always presented in the best light and most ethical perspective? If we only ask “how,” we simply gain information. When you know the “why,” you gain the wisdom to do the right thing.

Tim Kist is a certified management consultant, who works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer focused. He can be reached at tim@tk3consulting.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, September 1, 2018 8:04 AM CDT: Headline fixed.

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