data-driven marketing ethics, facebook data collection

Some marketers are urging data-driven marketers to re-examine their practices in light of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. They’re calling for greater emphasis on ethics regarding the use of customer data.

The underlying problem isn’t Facebook. It’s how marketers abuse data, says Alexandra Samuel, an independent technology researcher. “I should know, because I’m a data-driven marketer myself,” Samuel writes in The Globe and Mail.

Samuel calls the Cambridge Analytica controversy a wake-up call for marketers. Companies that grab and use data with less than full transparency and consent risk substantial public hostility. Now is the time start building marketing cultures that treat data with respect.

Time to Talk Ethics

“It’s more important than ever to talk about ethics in research, especially as it pertains to social media,” agree Becca Young, senior vice-president, and Kayla Musyj, qualitative research coordinator, at National Public Relations in Toronto.

The mammoth amount of data that marketers can gather through social media and other methods brings enormous opportunities – and great power. With that great power comes greater responsibility, they say.

The controversy has prompted congressional hearings and public debate about how to regulate social media networks, marketing firms and advertisers. “In the meantime, however, there is no excuse for unethical research methods, and no place for unethical researchers,” they say.

Surprise: Customers Care about Data Collection

Some marketers admit they collect data and analyze behavior in ways similar to Cambridge Analytica but say their activities are legal and ethical. Many marketers were surprised at the public’s strong reaction to the scandal. Marketers had thought customers wouldn’t mind companies collecting their data to create targeted ads and offers, says Tom Chapman, SEO specialist at CandidSky, a digital agency in the UK. They also thought customers probably wouldn’t learn about the tactics anyway.

They were wrong. People vowed to drop Facebook, and Congress demanded CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. Whatever happens as a result, expect Facebook to continue to restrict data collection.

The scandal could change how marketers identify and target customers. Customer may become increasingly data savvy and protective about their data. The may hesitate to click on ads, fearing they’ll be tracked online.

Recommendations for Data-Driven Marketing

Marketers and data specialists recommend:

Address ethics proactively, not reactively. Develop ethical guidelines for the company staff and contractors to follow from the start of each research project, advise Young and Musyj at National Public Relations. National follows principles of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR).

Adapt academic ethics protocols to the business environment. For example, conceal research subject identities by using pseudonyms and paraphrasing.

Follow users’ privacy settings and do not try to circumvent them.

Realize that customer insight is worth more than customer data. “Real insight comes from getting to know your customers, which means building a continuing relationship with people who will share their feedback over time,” Samuel says.

Keep the customer’s needs top of mind. Seek to transform data into insights to offer customers the specific products, services, information and deals they want.

Bottom Line: Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal has prompted soul-searching among data-driven marketers. The presumption that customers don’t care about their data has proven to be mistaken. While social media analytics is a potent tool for reaching customers and promoting products, treating data without respect and transparency may rouse the public’s wrath.

This article was first published on the Glean.info blog.