Most of the excitement around Web 2.0 and social networking to date has centered on the unbelievable advertising opportunities it will create by directly leveraging word-of-mouth and micro-targeting. In recent posts, I’ve argued that this is fundamentally bartering a consumer’s privacy (because the service itself is free). I’d like to propose here that there is a better way. The safest and most effective way for a company to leverage Web 2.0 and social computing is by applying their inherent strengths of interactivity and personalization to establish trusted relationships with new customers and strengthen relationships with current ones—not manipulate them and weaken trust in their brands. For example, real-world word of mouth is driven by referrals. Online social networks can easily facilitate this process without disclosing identity or altering it in a fashion that is unnatural to consumers. Let’s take a look at Facebook’s Beacon in this regard. Below is the text from the Facebook site describing the benefits and details of Beacon for businesses using Facebook (clearly the pre-apology policy…but it is still up in this form as of today…need to get those departments in sync Facebook!):
“Simply determine which user actions you would like publish to Facebook and add a few lines of code to your web page. Facebook Beacon actions include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, adding an item to a wish list, and more. When a user performs the action, they will be alerted that your website is sending a story to their profile and have a chance to opt out. No additional user action is needed for the story to be published on Facebook, and users remain in control of their information.”
While Facebook has fixed the “opt out” problem (what were they thinking??!!), my personal feeling is that the service is still not a natural process for consumers in that you usually decide to recommend a service or product after you have tried it, not when you buy it. A much more natural process, would be to ask the user if he or she minds if the business checks in with them in a few days to see what they think. Maybe let them rate the product, and if the rating is good, ask them if they would like to recommend it to their friends. For another angle, compare Facebook Beacon to Amazon’s reviews. Amazon has it right, because it is helping consumers and publishers in their common interests, not one at the expense of the other.