It was bound to happen. Online communities such as FaceBook and Twitter, which are themselves commercial animals, are being mined by all kinds of enterprises from ad agencies to credit card companies for the commercially valuable data they can yield. A recent opinion piece in the Manchester Evening News rounds up a fair number of potential uses of this socially generated data and tries to sort out the good from the not so good, and the bad from the truly ugly.
According to the Evening News‘s Paul Taylor, businesses are using social networking sites for everything from checking out individual job applicants to statistical analysis of myriad purchasing decisions with neural network technology. On of the worrisome scenarios he highlights is the probable effect of upcoming legislation by Parliament that would require law enforcement agencies to keep records of web traffic. Another is the move by Google to obtain customers’ permission to let Google use cell phone software to keep track of their whereabouts and apply its operation research magic to turn the information it acquires this way into marketable fact. But he balances these possibilities with other brighter ones–such as helping doctors do better risk assessment in creating treatment plans.
Falling somewhere in the space between sinister and beneficial is the use of social networking data for marketing. About the same time as Paul Taylor’s opinion piece was published, a marketer’s blog for the auto industry laid out the conceptual framework of a strategy based on online communities that it has trademarked as "Social Influence Marketing." A component of any campaign as essential, it claims, as direct marketing and branding.
At the moment, all of this should mean more to you if you are young, because, at the moment, the young are the people who are most attracted to social networks. And they are the ones who will immediately see the utility of network data for marketing and product strategies. But if, as they say, youth is only a state of mind, it won’t be long before the rest of us catch up and catch on as the social network and its exploitation evolve.