The following article was written by Emily R. Coleman, President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc. When I first read it I absolutely knew that Emily had hit the proverbial nail on the head, and with her permission we're now adding it to our blog.
A friend recently sent me Evan Bailyn’s Outsmarting Social Media with the instructions to “Read it!” It’s an interesting book, well worth the time to look at. Bailyn has some thoughtful and practical suggestions and insights on marketing through Facebook and Twitter (although I think Facebook’s new Timeline has thrown him a curve).
The subtitle of the book is “Profiting in the Age of Friendship Marketing,” and one of Bailyn’s key themes is how social media are changing the way marketers and advertising agencies will be using “influencers.” With social media, the concept of “influencer” (or “trend setter”) is being brought down from the realm of celebrities to individuals in our lives whose opinions we respect.
What makes this granularity and personalization of influence so potent is that we decide who influences us, taking the guess work out of picking spokespersons. As we add more and more personal information to our personal social media accounts, and as Facebook and Google (whom Bailyn sees as the main competitors in this emerging arena) perfect algorithms for real-time and truly personalized search, marketers and advertisers will be able to deliver their pitches at the level of the individual. (In fact, Google has just rolled out its newKnowledge Graph or “semantic web” to make searches more personalized and intuitive.)
Bailyn foresees the time when ads for sneakers, for example, will be sent to you with a picture of one of your individually chosen influencer friends wearing or endorsing the brand.
As a marketer, that sounds pretty exciting. People will tell us what they want, what they need, and what they worry about. Even better, they’ll tell us who they know who would influence their buying decision. Wow! My job just got a whole lot easier.
I have no doubt that sometime in the not-too-distant future, women will be getting personalized lingerie ads and Cialis™ promotions will be targeted more precisely.
As an individual, however, the whole thing makes me a little queasy.
It’s probably a generational thing, but I have a profound objection to the notion of my friends becoming shills for products. Certainly, I’m interested in their opinions and experiences with products and services and just plain stuff. But when I want those opinions, I’ll ask for them. (And I really don’t care what underwear my friends prefer.) More important, as soon as these opinions are co-opted by advertisers, they will be significantly diminished in my eyes. (Actually, I’d probably get in touch with my friends and ask them if they knew they were being used, and what were they thinking!).
Certainly, the idea of friendship (or relationship) marketing is not new. It is, after all, the basis for all the multi-level marketing (MLM) programs.
What is new is taking the personal out of the personal relationships, interjecting third-party interests between the individual and the individual’s influencers.
What is new is the coming unprecedented ability to gather and manipulate vast amounts of personal information at the most granular and individual level.
Okay, so I admit it. I’m old-fashioned. I’m not looking forward to a brave new world where we put more and more of what used to be private information online. And I’m not looking forward to a brave new world where that information is increasingly accessed by people I don’t know and is used to try and sell me stuff. I get enough unsolicited suggestions for how I should spend my money as it is.
I have no issue with companies making billions off “friendship marketing.” I am a capitalist to my toes. (Though I am probably not going to be a very good target for their campaigns.)
But this data collection (voluntary as it may be) makes me queasy because:
- It will probably be a matter of minutes before politicians and political causes catch on to the advantages of granular marketing. They will obviously use this accessible database for fund-raising, volunteer gathering, and get-out-the-vote drives – at a minimum.
- How long do you think it will be before politicians and government agencies use this data in less benign ways?
- What do you think the chances are that all this private and personal information you are consolidating on social media sites will not be hacked?
Okay, I’m old fashioned. But I fear that in the not-too-distant future, we will be reminiscing about what personal privacy used to mean.
About Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a consultancy that specializes in helping companies extend their marketing reach and impact. Her hands-on experience extends from the development and integration of enterprise-wide marketing communications, through the creation and implementation of strategy to achieve business objectives, into the innovation of techniques to ensure that tactics support business strategy. Dr. Coleman can be reached at email@example.com. She can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.