Taking the "Creepy" Out of Social Data

There’s a lot of talk these days about data. And there should be. We’re dumping more and more of it onto the open Internet every  single day. Each day that dawns, consumers should be more interested in the use of that data than the day before. The “creepy  line” keeps getting nudged forward.

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Img: Jeremy Keith via Flickr

But we’re all better off because of it.

It wasn’t all that long ago that using your real name or giving out even a general location on the Internet would have been seen  as a dumb move. But now people broadcast their exact location with every Foursquare checkin, and they’re rabidly addicted to  doing so. Looking down the list of people that I follow on Twitter, I see far more usernames like @drew or @ben_deda than I do  @SuperHax0r420. The Internet has become real life. So much so, in fact, that the abbreviation of “IRL” doesn’t seem to exist  online anymore.

But perhaps more interesting than the loss of anonymity is the building of a community. The rise of data is slowly turning the Internet in to Mayberry, RFD.

Bear with me for a moment, because I’m from a small town and I can speak to this fact pretty readily. It wasn’t so small that everyone knew everyone else, but it was definitely small enough that going to the same store twice in a week would get you called by your first name. And yet I did just that, numerous times, never thinking twice about making small talk with the person behind the counter, even if I was unknowingly improving the level of service that I would get by building a relationship.

These days, the person behind the counter is your Amazon account, and the level of service that you get is less about lagniappe and more about customized suggestions or subscriptions that deliver products that you use most often.

The face of customer service as an industry has changed, driven in large part by the inclusion of social data. If I had called a customer hotline six or eight years ago, I would have spoken to someone on the other end of the phone who was as much of a stranger to me as someone I met randomly on the street. It would have been relegated to a certain period of time, or else it would have been a pain to reopen that line of conversation.

But today, when I send in a support request, the person on the other end can find all sorts of information about me. They can look at my Twitter stream to see what kind of mood I’m in. They can check email logs to see what we’ve discussed before. I might even be connected to the brand on Facebook, Instagram or any number of other services. The company can map that relationship and have an amazing amount of insight about how best to work with me.

We’re in a time when having a physical phone book delivered to your house has become a bit of a running joke to the technologically savvy. In Mayberry, that same phone book was unnecessary because you knew everyone’s number anyway. Today it’s unnecessary because we have the power of the Internet in the palms of our hands at any given moment.

Marketers, application developers, customer service agents, CEOs (and the customers of each of them)…every one of these positions has been changed by the advent of Internet-gleaned data. The onus of using this data in a responsible manner, however, also lies in their hands. Pushing boundaries in order to provide better products and services or to build better relationships is a welcome practice. Overstepping them is not.

The growth of data and its use doesn’t have to be creepy. Effective implementation, responsible use and secure storage are all points that each of us should consider at every turn. While we’re walking the path toward Mayberry, bear in mind what made it great in the first place – It was friendly, it was familiar and most of all it was safe.

This post was the brainchild of Brad McCarty of FullContact

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