For the past year, as part of counseling my clients on best social media practice, I have been asking them to install and use Facebook’s Pixel. In my social media advertising presentations I have described this as an “adorable” little Facebook code that allows the brand or business to track and store each FB user who clicks through to their website. FB uses the code installed on that website to store the exact FB user ID’s so that when a brand or business creates FB advertising they can create a re-targeted campaign to those exact consumers. When a pixel audience is large enough, businesses can even use those demographics to create look-a like audiences and generally get a deeper understanding of who their average consumer is.
Before this Spring and the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, many of my small business clients were surprised that we could harness this type of data through social media platforms. The fact that each FB user who visited a website deposited a bit of their personal information and their exact user ID, it just wasn’t something that most individuals had thought through personally.
Other website based data companies have done just this same thing for years. Cookie technology has been boosting brands’ advertising success since 1994 and Netscape. Website shopping cart technology has improved enough that companies can now not only send emails to remind a customer they left an item behind in their cart, but that same customer can get a pop up ad across their computer screen, or even a text letting them know the same.
Data harnessing and harvesting was not a new concept for these small business owners. But, they just hadn’t formulated what that meant for their own personal social media accounts.
As a marketing professional I get a bit geeky about the amount of information you can grab. I love the idea of digging deep and finding that niche customer so you can save a few dollars and target your marketing outreach appropriately. Generally though, users have had the impression that social media accounts are a kind of extension of a personal telephone call or friendly address book of friends and neighbors. Because social media is fairly new and something we’ve grown into culturally, users generally have overlooked the implication that as a digital platform, the data collection users were familiar with through their web browsing habits, existed in their personal social media accounts.
So, as I began counseling small businesses to use and install that bit of code to help them track and save some advertising dollars, many of them cringed. More than one of my clients said, “Well isn’t that kind of creepy?” And the answer, even just a few months ago was, “Well it certainly can be.” In terms of data collection, websites and businesses were allowed to “sneak off” with consumer information. Creepy.
Thanks to the European Union and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy statements and notifications are now required to remove the “creep” factor out of all of that data collection. Brands or corporations are no longer allowed to collect data unless they disclose it. When small businesses gobble up those great breadcrumbs consumers leave behind for the purposes of a re-targeting campaign that action has to be disclosed right up front before they snag a consumer’s data. A cookie can no longer be a secret.
We can argue that it never should have been a secret. Most small businesses with integrity would have been more up front about that data collection, but just didn’t have the right language to say so. In addition, a small business who might have been one of a few to disclose digital data collection, had the burden of global education on their shoulders.
Now, its all been done.
The GDPR requires more from us globally. The EU has provided some examples of disclosure statements and even provided code anyone can install to offer a privacy statement popup. Due to the regulation and threat of possible fines businesses and global corporations are following through and this disclosure is common practice. Finally, education about data collection is no longer an individual burden.
Data harvesting is no longer creepy, thankfully. It might still give some consumers the creeps, but at least, everyone is required to be more transparent.
Sarah Abboreno Corbin is the founder of Free Fly Marketing and recently spoke at the Brazen Chicago Roundtable, Social & Successful – Best Practices for Social Media. This was piece was re-posted from Medium, with the author’s permission.