Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three Steps to Protect Your Privacy As You Use Facebook and Surf the Web

There's been a bunch of attention given to the topic of Facebook and trust as of late. Some folks got worked up when it was revealed that Facebook would leverage users' browsing history and app data to better target ads. Then there was the infamous study that demonstrated your news feed was not really personalized to you but could be manipulated as Facebook sees fit.

What I find ironic is that people will vent a great deal at Facebook while doing little to protect their own privacy. Whether they are ignoring Facebook settings that can better secure their information, approving unnecessary and untrustworthy apps or even giving up personal information without thinking, consumers are generally their own worst enemy.

I thought I would share a few suggestions that you might consider if you are concerned about the collection and use of your personal information and surfing habits.

Check the Facebook Applications Accessing Your Personal Data

You probably think that you have been careful and only given permission to access your Facebook data to familiar and trusted applications. You are probably wrong, and it only takes a couple minutes to find out.

While some express concern about what Facebook may do with their personal data, it is shocking how many people will simply open up their data stream--including their posts, likes, locations, political views, friendships and other data--to complete strangers. This can happen when you give permission to Facebook applications.

It is easy to check if you have unnecessary apps sucking your data:
  • While visiting Facebook in a browser, click the little down arrow in the upper right corner and select "Settings."
  • In the left column, select "Apps."
  • At the bottom of the "Apps You Use" section, click "Show All Apps."
  • Each of the listed applications may be accessing and using your personal data. If you see apps you  no longer use (or may not recognize), click the little "X" on the right and select "Remove" from the pop-up box.
  • If you care to, you can see the permissions you have granted to each application and learn when it last accessed your data.  Simply click on the name of application to view this information:


Use Incognito Windows when completing those silly quizzes 

Everyone loves those online quizzes, don't they? (Well, I don't, but I'm a grumpy old man.) Who doesn't want to know what Tarot card they are, or animal, or Disney princess, or composer, or superhero, or constellation, or deadly sin, or dipping sauce, or punctuation mark... God, I really hate these dumb quizzes. 

If you simply must know what classic rock band you are, then here is a tip:  Go incognito in Google Chrome. To do so, right click on the link to the quiz and select "Open link in incognito window." You can now complete the quiz without having your answers captured and used for ad (or spam) targeting. 

If you simply click the links to these quizzes, the sites can use third-party cookies to associate your answers with your identity or your surfing habits. Think of the kind of personal information these quizzes ask (and most people willingly give up without a second's thought). A question such as "What is your greatest concern?" or "Which question would you most like answered?" can reveal if you have money, health or your love life on your mind. You wouldn't tell your bank or a person on the street that you have concerns about your relationship with your spouse, your finances or your health, so why tell the complete stranger who created the quiz? 

Of course, the safest course of action is to forego those quizzes altogether. And remember, if you share your quiz results on Facebook, you are simply encouraging other people to disclose their personal information to whomever created the quiz. 

Consider Opting Out From Behavioral Advertising (Including Facebook's) 

The Digital Advertising Alliance permits consumers to opt out of behavioral targeting. This tool allows you to see the participating companies that are customizing ads within your browser based on your surfing habits. You can select one or all of them (including Facebook) and choose to opt out. Doing so stores an opt out cookie in your browser, which means you have to repeat the process on every PC and browser you use.

Keep in mind, if you opt out, advertisers cannot target ads that may suit your interests based on your online behaviors. It also means that some free sites and services that rely on advertising revenue may get less of it because of your actions. So, before you hack away at those behavioral ads, consider the ramifications.

For more information or to opt out from this type of online advertising, visit

There are many more ways to protect your privacy when using Facebook or surfing the web, such as tightening your Facebook privacy settings, installing apps to prevent tracking requests in your browser, deleting browser cookies, using anonymous surfing VPN software, and removing your data from marketing databases such as Acxiom.

Of course, if you simply keep giving up your personal data to Facebook applications and sharing your preferences, concerns and activities on quiz sites, no amount of privacy settings or special software will protect you. You are your own best first line of defense.

Musical Bonus

For many years, I have been a big fan of Vienna Teng. Her latest remarkable release, AIMS, is a departure for Teng and takes a more digital direction. Included on the album is a haunting tune that, if you listen carefully, is about the sorts of tracking done by database companies such as Acxiom. Should we object to this tracking, or is it really what we want? Enjoy the tune and ponder the answer.

The Hymn of Acxiom
Lyrics courtesy of Vienna Teng's Website

somebody hears you. you know that. you know that.
somebody hears you. you know that inside.
someone is learning the colors of all your moods, to
(say just the right thing and) show that you’re understood.
here you’re known.

leave your life open. you don’t have. you don’t have.
leave your life open. you don’t have to hide.
someone is gathering every crumb you drop, these
(mindless decisions and) moments you long forgot.
keep them all.

let our formulas find your soul.
we’ll divine your artesian source (in your mind),
marshal feed and force (our machines will)
to design you a perfect love—
or (better still) a perfect lust.
o how glorious, glorious: a brand new need is born.

now we possess you. you’ll own that. you’ll own that.
now we possess you. you’ll own that in time.
now we will build you an endlessly upward world,
(reach in your pocket) embrace you for all you’re worth.

is that wrong?
isn’t this what you want?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Is It Time For a Mobile Mind Shift Or a Customer Mind Shift?

I just finished the book "The Mobile Mind Shift" by several of my Forrester friends, Ted Schadler, Josh Bernoff and Julie Ask. (If you use that link, you can download the first two chapters for free!) It is a good and timely book about how brands must monitor consumers' changing mobile habits, identify "Mobile Moments," empower employees and transform business processes.

While I recommend this informative book, it left me thinking less about the need for companies to embrace mobile technology and more about how vital it is for them to empower people regardless of channel or technology. The book may have focused on mobile, but I think it says more about the customer mind shift than the mobile mind shift. Brands don't win by being great at mobile but by better serving the customer in every channel! [Tweet that]

This point is underscored by the new 2014 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study conducted by comScore. You may be surprised to learn that a whopping 61% of consumers still prefer a PC for researching products, and the next most common research channel, preferred by 13% of consumers, is physical stores. Only 1 in 5 consumers prefer smartphones or tablets for research at the current time. The preferences are no different for purchasing products--in fact, consumers are even more oriented to PCs and physical stores for purchase. Just one in nine people prefer to buy on tablets or smartphones.

Of course, consumers will continue to shift to tablets and smartphones for research and shopping, but a substantial portion of your customer base will not be giving up their PCs any time soon. Even when consumers do shift research and shopping preferences to mobile, brands must be careful with their assumptions about what this means. For instance, the same study found that when shopping on mobile devices, more people prefer a retailer’s full website (41%) than mobile websites (34%) or mobile apps (25%).

The mind shift your brand must make is not to be mobile but to be responsive to customers in every channel. [Tweet that] If your brand is shifting to mobile but ignoring users of PCs and those who prefer full websites, you are making a terrible mistake.
Which of these data points is more vital to your brand?
That consumers use apps more than the mobile web or
that consumer do not use many apps?

As you adopt more mobile practices, be careful not to misread the data; for example, too many brands today are racing to launch their own apps. This seems reasonable based on the data that shows apps dominate the mobile web. That's an interesting data point, but here is a better one to help mobile planning at your organization: While Nielsen has documented a substantial 65% increase in time spent with mobile apps over the past two years, the number of apps consumer use has changed very little. Nielsen reports that the average number of apps used per month grew from 23.2 to 26.8 in those same two years. In other words, consumers may be ever more addicted to their Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Candy Crush and Instagram, but they are just not that interested in your app. Unless your customers have a compelling need to interact with your brand regularly while out and about (such as banking or paying with the Starbucks app), a mobile app may not be the best strategy.

The message seems clear: Yes, you need to "get" mobile, but you first need to "get" the customer. Embracing mobile at the expense of other channels is no less a mistake than ignoring mobile. Brands that succeed in the future won't be "mobile first;" they will be "customer first." [Tweet That] This means furnishing value in whatever channel customers wish (mobile web, mobile apps, traditional web, physical, social, email, wearable) and in whatever way consumers wish (meaning both the traditional ownership economy and, increasingly, the new collaborative economy, as well.)

There is a pervasive attitude in business nowadays that companies are not adjusting quickly enough to the adoption of smartphones. I agree that is a risk, but I don't think that is the biggest risk companies face today. After all, companies scrambled 15 years ago to adopt to consumers' Web mind shift, but many did so in the most vapid of ways, launching static websites and banner ad campaigns rather than changing how they conducted business in a digital world. While Borders used the web to market its physical stores and books, Amazon made buying and downloading books easier--Borders made a web mind shift, but Amazon made a customer mind shift.

If companies launch mobile mobile apps that merely cut and paste today's web functionality into an app, they should not be surprised when they fail. Sure, Sears can launch a mobile app so people can shop on their phone, but how many people are going to boot up a Sears app regularly? Compare that to Amazon's new Firefly feature on the Fire phone, which uses the phone's camera to identify products in the real world and instantaneously provide links to that product in the Amazon Marketplace. Retailers that simply offer traditional web shopping in an app are making a mobile mind shift, but that will do little to combat Amazon as it continues to lead the customer mind shift in retail.

The mobile mind shift demands that brands use mobile technology, but a customer mind shift may suggest other ways to win the customer. For example, Sears has spent the past decade cutting in-store staff to a bare minimum (or below) to try to keep costs in line with shrinking margins in bricks-and-mortar retail. (Sears head count per store is now less than half the industry average.) But think about the brands that are succeeding in physical retail--Restoration Hardware, HomeGoods, Kate Spade and Lane Bryant lead the market in sales per square foot growth, and they didn't achieve that by offering a poor customer experience.

A new mobile app may help physical retailers a bit, but it will take more than an iPhone and Android offering to stem Sear's bleeding. (Sears Holdings' market cap is down more than 80% in the last six years.) The only way for Sears to respond to a mobile mind shift of smartphones with showrooming apps is to provide a unique, differentiated, value-added experience in the physical space. Having the proper staff and offering digital in-store assistance is the way to keep people shopping and buying in the real world (where 94% of all retail still happens in the US!), which means Sears' most pressing need is not to make a mobile mind shift but a customer mind shift!

Explore more SHLD Data at Wikinvest

I am not arguing against the mobile mind shift, but hasn't the time come to stop worrying so much about channels and instead focus more on the customer? Tomorrow's customers will be more mobile, of course, but they will also be more social, more digital, more inclined to rent and share than to buy and own, more demanding that brands earn their trust and have higher expectations that brands will act proactively and in real-time to resolve problems.

Go ahead and launch your mobile app, but if you are counting on that to keep your brand relevant, I respectfully submit you will be deeply disappointed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

It's About Trust, Stupid Facebook

In the 1992 presidential election, a catchphrase emerged out of the Clinton campaign: "It's the economy, stupid." It was a reminder of the issue voters most cared about and the topic that would win the election. This rallying cry helped Bill Clinton defeat George H. W. Bush.

If I were advising Facebook (which, I guess, I am with this blog post), I'd hang this in every office in Menlo Park and Facebook's other outposts:  "It's About Trust, Stupid." It is a reminder of the issue consumers most care about (eventually) and the topic that will keep Facebook on top.

Facebook is in a very dangerous situation: It is wildly successful. If only all of us could have such problems, huh? The problem with success is that it tends to make an organization lazy and overconfident. Kodak was wildly successful. Myspace was wildly successful. The Roman Empire was wildly successful. When you are riding high, you begin to believe you are invincible, and that it is the moment you are most vincible.

Facebook has good cause to be confident, I suppose. After every change of its news feed, a million voices scream how they are going to abandon the platform, but few do (and the ones that do almost always come crawling back.)  Six months ago, the buzz was so loud that "kids were leaving Facebook" that every major news outlet trumpeted the exodus with headlines, yet a Forrester study found that 80% of teens are more active on Facebook than any other social network. Facebook has taken more body blows than Rocky, but it always seems to get the last punch.

Facebook appears to have little reason for concern, but neither did Kodak, Myspace or the Roman Empire--until it was too late. The thing that Facebook's leaders do not seem to realize is that if (or when) a tipping point occurs and users start to flee, the company will be as powerless to stop it as Myspace and Friendster was.

I am not suggesting an exodus is imminent, but Facebook now has everything to lose and--let's face it--very little to gain. It is already one of the 25 largest US corporations based on market cap; there aren't too many rungs above them, but there is a bottomless pit beneath Facebook. And this is a company with a single, undiversified revenue model--it is completely and totally reliant on advertising. (On this blog, I've often criticized the company for failing to diversify, especially during an age of growth in the collaborative economy. The fact Facebook remains completely addicted to old-school advertising while social business flourishes around Facebook is an embarrassment and a huge risk, in my opinion. But I digress.)

The company's lack of diversification means if (or when) people feel they can socially engage on a safer, better, more trustworthy platform, the companies' entire business model may unravel rapidly. We often forget how rapidly confident, successful companies become the opposite. Kodak was trading within 20% of its all-time high in July 1998; a little over two years later, Kodak has lost more than 50% of its value. In March 2006, Borders was trading near its record high price; two years later it was down 75%.

When the tipping point happens, no one sees it coming (or else the stock price would be lower) and everyone is surprised at how fast it happens. Facebook needs to be less confident. The company needs to be reminded "It's About Trust, Stupid."

The company may own consumers' time and social sharing, but it is on shaky ground when it comes to trust. A year ago, a study suggested consumers trust Facebook less than the NSA and the current American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals consumers are less satisfied with Facebook than virtually any other organization.

There is good reason for consumers to have little faith in Facebook. The company has shot itself in the foot several times, and the media is not always kind or fair. From Facebook settling with the FTC for deceiving consumers to Facebook monitoring your browsing behavior to target ads to social gaming scams run on the platform to the the dubious practice of sponsored stories (which turned consumer posts into brand advertising without specific permission), this is not a company with a good track record (or any track record) in earning consumer trust.

(When the company launched Sponsored Stories, I told my Facebook rep that we would participate only if we could first secure permission from each participant. My rep questioned why we would want that and I responded EVERY advertiser should want that; a couple years later, Facebook had advertiser fleeing from the program and settled a class action lawsuit over the practice. But I digress, again.)

The latest trust issue to hit Facebook was all over the media (and Facebook) this weekend. The company allowed researchers to manipulate users' news feeds to evoke positive or negative emotion, proving the obvious--we feel happier when we see positive things and sadder when we see negative things. (Shocking! Positively shocking!) Of course, some Facebook users have reacted negatively to being treated like lab rats and having their communications manipulated. (Shocking! Positively shocking!)

It has been supremely disappointing to see some marketing "experts" defend Facebook by claiming this is no different than the sort of positioning brands have always done. They fail to recognize the humongous difference between a brand manipulating its own communications to evoke a desired reaction and Facebook manipulating your peer-to-peer communications to do the same. That is the difference between Old Spice changing campaigns to increase purchase intent in consumers and Gmail hiding messages from friends to provoke a desired response in users. It is not hard to understand why Facebook is facing the backlash over the research study, but it is unfathomable why Facebook leaders ever thought that publishing the study (much less conducting it) was a good idea.

Facebook has defended the study, pointing out it has the right to do these things based on the service's terms and conditions. To me, this reeks of the South Park parody where Apple claims the right to turn customers into human centipedes because it buried this permission into the 100-page agreement no one reads and everyone accepts automatically. The fact Facebook believes it can rely on legalese instead of consumer trust is further evidence of a serious problem for the social network. It's About Trust, Stupid.

I don't have a crystal ball, and I certainly recognize that Facebook seems invulnerable to consumers' lack of trust and satisfaction. But rather than strengthen the company's resolve and confidence, the consumer reaction to this study should really be a warning sign to those at Facebook.

No company can operate without trust and satisfaction forever, and if the end comes, it will not be something most see coming--least of all the folks in Menlo Park.