One of my journalism professors once began a lecture on the unreliability of online sources by showing everyone a famous “New Yorker” cartoon — at that point already nearly 10 years old — of a dog using a computer and saying, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Today, we not only know it’s a dog, but we also know his name and his breed. Soon, we’ll know what kinds of tricks he can do and how many fleas he has.
We can bemoan the death of online anonymity. We can rail against the services that constantly threaten to expose data we once believed to be safe. We can look for ways to protect the privacy we’ve got left — or even drop out of the scene entirely. But we can never go back to those early days of the Web when we were all strangers and nothing could be verified. The masquerade is over.
Even as some of us (me included) shift nervously in our chairs at the thought of someone sniffing about in our online detritus, others are overjoyed — especially younger users for whom sharing so much information is more natural. The New York Times profiles the rise of several newer services that allow users to share more information than ever before, including Dopplr and Blippy.
These sites raise some interesting questions for users, but also for businesses. At first, it might seem like these services make a marketer’s job much easier, but I think that as these kinds of sites catch on, they’re going to require strategies that are profoundly different from the ones that worked on traditional social platforms.
On Facebook and its ilk, companies are fighting for users’ attention, but also for their trust, as they try to create a relationship with fans. If a user is already giving everything about themselves away, then disclosing information no longer creates a lasting bond. Marketers are going to have to think of ways to establish relationships that don’t center on this traditional transaction. It may be tempting to say that once you have the data, you don’t need the relationship with the customer — but that’s selling the power of social media short. Instead, marketers will have to craft strategies that don’t center on cementing a relationship with the exchange of information.
Should marketers encourage customers to display their purchases online? What does engagement mean in this context? How will marketers need to rethink their strategies to account for these kinds of sites?
Image credit, iQoncept, via Shutterstock