What the Facebook scandal taught us about the future of customer engagement

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The scandal surrounding Facebook's use of personal data has given us a glimpse into the future of marketing and customer experience management. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in early April about how Facebook uses personal data. He and Facebook are bearing the brunt of disapproval from many people’s sudden realisation of how much all those likes and convenient sign-ins to apps revealed about themselves.

However, what Facebook did with our data is just the beginning; the future of behavioural micro-targeting has begun.

Collecting data on people is not new. We have always done that. In fact, in our global customer experience consultancy, we suggest that our clients gather more data than they do now. The more you know about a customer and how they behave in response to various stimulus makes it easier for you to predict what they are going to do next.

What is new is that in the past, you had to buy data from different points. It was fits and starts, bits and bobs, this and that - or whatever euphemism you like best. Now, organisations like Facebook have integrated, comprehensive data that tells the story of the individual. It allows advertisers to get down to smaller segments of people, tweak the message to communicate best with this segment and reap the rewards of micro-targeted marketing.

It seems appropriate to apply the Spiderman principle here for Facebook: "With great power comes great responsibility".

Mass media messaging is dying

The age of single, mass messages is dying, if not dead. I predict that in 20 years’ time, we will not be using mass communication at all. People’s habits are becoming more fragmented. We are not just watching three channels on TV, listening to the radio or reading the paper. We watch, listen, and read many ways now. It is a problem for businesses that are not ready to transition to the next way to communicate their message.

For those that are ready and eager to embrace the future, Facebook is leading the way. They have loads of data on people’s behaviour. Psychology and your personality drive behaviour. These are critical parts of customer data, the future of designing excellence into your Customer Experience.

When we undertake journey mapping we have hundreds of examples of how our psychology affects buying decisions, many times without our knowledge. Having data that shows that psychology in action is a gold mine for behaviuoral micro-targeting. Not only will it show you what people have done, but it will also help you see what they are going to do next.

The data that was used by the analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, credited with helping get President Donald Trump elected, was captured by an app developer that wrote surveys. Cambridge Analytica hired an app developer, Alexsandr Kogan, to find out the basic profile for Facebook users and what they chose to “like.”

Psychology and your personality drive behaviour. These are critical parts of customer data, the future of designing excellence into your Customer Experience.

People who downloaded the app took the surveys, and the app developer collected the data on them - and all their friends, if the user’s privacy setting allowed it. (Is anyone else wondering where that privacy setting is right about now?) Over the next two years, they had the data on over 87 million Facebook Users who mostly lived in the US.

Facebook has allowed app developers to have that kind of access since 2007. However, they understood that Kogan was doing research, not passing along that information to another entity. When Facebook discovered what was up, they removed Kogan’s app and told him (and anyone else who he had given it to) to destroy that data. At the time I am writing this, no one is facing charges, but there are several investigations in a couple of different countries.

Facebook collecting that data on its users is not illegal; it wasn’t even wrong to do so. Not controlling the data with app developers is where Facebook went wrong. The most significant issue is that they are not transparent with their customers about how they collect and use the data - at least not 100%. To me, it shows a lack of maturity as an organisation. Even Zuckerberg admits that he and his company did not take their responsibility in these matters seriously enough. However, to his credit, he took responsibility for their mistake and apologised for it.

If it’s free, YOU are the product

If the idea that Facebook or its app developers have data on you (and possibly everyone you know) bothers you, I will remind you that there is nothing free in this life. I heard someone say something the other day that I found rather clever.

They said, “If the product is free, then you are the product.” For my part, I use Facebook for both business and personal. While I was not surprised to learn they had data about me, I was surprised to realise that they connected the two accounts, even though I take great pains to keep them separate.

Most people didn’t realise the depth and breadth of data Facebook and app developers collected and then packaged to advertisers. It shocked them to learn that all of that was a matter of record. They just thought that filling out the surveys was fun.  

I would argue that the same people who were shocked by what Facebook knows would be reeling about what Google reveals. Then, of course, you have the data captured by your smartphone, e.g., location within a few feet, where you visit and at what time, even what you say when Hey Siri or Hey Google are activated.

Behavioural micro-targeting hits a bullseye in the future

Pandora’s box is already open. We have many more data points than we did in the past. The data paints a vibrant picture of what people do and, from what they do, you can predict what these people are like, in behavioural terms. In some way, when you have this data, you understand people better than they know themselves.

As we discussed in our recent podcast on this issue, we recalled that what people say they will do and what they do are often two different things. What’s more, people don’t always say what they really want because many times they don’t know.  I have a story I tell often called, “The Disney Salad,” that demonstrates what I mean.

From a Customer Experience perspective, we see how the practical use of micro-targeting can influence behaviour based on data collected from users.

Many years ago, Disney asked their customers what they would change about the food at the theme parks. The customers had many suggestions, but one typical comment was that customers would like the option of a salad. So, Disney added salads, and guess what? Few people bought them. What did they buy? Hamburgers, hot dogs, turkey legs, you name it. Just don’t name a salad, because that was not what they bought.

Now, when you have data about what people do, you see what people want, and, more importantly, what their personality is. Knowing personality information is a significant advantage as we look to the future or marketing. Here are three relevant terms that will help moving forward.

  • Psychographic targeting, or psychographic segmentation, involves dividing your market into parts based on different personality traits, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles of consumers.  
  • Behavioural targeting divides your market into parts based on their behaviour, meaning the things you do. In an online sense, it can be what you click on, how long you visit the page, what kinds of sites you search for, etc.
  • Micro-targeting uses consumer data and demographic context to segment an audience and predict their future buying behaviour. It is in everyday use for political campaigns. (I’m looking at you, Cambridge Analytica…)

In the future, marketers will be able to profile their best customers, by personality and behaviour. Then, they will search through the Big Data to find similar individuals that share these personalities and behaviours. Then, they can micro-target them with the design to influence them to buy their product or service, just like their like-minded peers. What’s more, artificial intelligence (AI) will play a role in managing this effort, from collecting to segmenting, matching to cross-referencing, and probably even customising the message, so it is “just so.”

Targeting people with a message that plays to their behaviour is an effective way to influence their behavior. For example, let’s pretend you own a private beach (and let’s also pretend we are good mates, so that I can visit you there often!) You have a sign that says, “Private Beach.” This sign is informational only and informs attitudes. You rely on people not to go in. But, as you and me both know, some blokes will go in anyway.

However, if the sign said, “Danger! Shark Attacks,” you are getting at the underlying drivers of people, who want no part of a shark on a private beach or otherwise. It is a behavioural communication. Chances are this sign will keep that beach private.  

Now, of course, the sign example is silly (and a bit dishonest), but it demonstrates the concept that how customers behave is critical, as well as how psychology affects decision-making skills. Both behaviour and psychology are key ingredients to getting the results you want. For all these reasons, behavioural economics, or the study of how our psychology affects our buying decision is an essential science for the future of marketing and Customer Experience.

Facebook showed us the future, for good or ill

The ways we used to market are dying, and mass messaging is passing into oblivion. Our data is out there, ready to predict our buying decisions and preferences, whether we realised it or not. From a Customer Experience perspective, we see how the practical use of micro-targeting can influence behaviour based on data collected from users.

It also portends how big data can take micro-targeting to the mainstream as the way to get customers to make decisions in our favour. The Facebook scandal is also a glimpse into the future - whether we “like” it or not.

Hear the rest of the conversation on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX and our weekly podcast

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About Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw

 Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of worlds first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of six best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy has a proven track record. They provide consulting, specialised research & training from Sarasota, Florida and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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