Will Curiosity Kill the Social Media Cat?

At first, Facebook was this great place to connect with friends; especially those friends I hadn’t seen in years. I was curious. What happened to that girl from high school I used to sit with in science class, together mockingly calling our teacher The Bald Eagle, thinking he wouldn’t pick up on what we meant? What about that guy I dated years ago; could I have a quick peek at his profile and then block him so he can’t find me?

I worked in marketing at the time Facebook became mainstream, and yes, I realized the potential of all this new social media, and especially of just how targeted marketers could make their advertising with all of the detailed demographic information that many users offer up, no questions asked. Out of curiosity again, I offered up details: What would happen if I included my political leanings, age, relationship status? Which advertisers would want to connect with my eyes?

I found the ads to be overly invasive in general. I heard from a friend who changed her relationship status from engaged to married, that the moment she did that, Ashley Madison ads started appearing on the side of her Facebook page (you may remember Ashley Madison as the company whose 2011 Superbowl commercial was said to be banned). It’s a website for married cheaters to meet other married cheaters, so someone purportedly found it offensive over at the Superbowl office and disallowed it. Actually, my newly married friend also found the whole idea offensive, but that’s another story.

All of this began to bug me. Even as someone who understands how marketing works and how all the demographics can help target products, it was getting too personal. No, I don’t want special sales for someone exactly my age in my city (gee, what a deal!). No, I don’t want you to collect statistics on me based on my gender, age, marital status and political leanings. No, I especially don’t want photos of me available to the makers of Facebook games I play or marketers or anyone I don’t specifically choose.

It’s unnerving to me when I see ads that are so targeted to me that I know they have some of this information on me, and it makes me wonder what they have access to that I don’t know.

So I started removing information and tightening up my security settings. Problem solved, right?

Not really.

It seems employers (and clients, and the like, depending on your line of work) actually want all the information in your Facebook account too. It was reported in February, 2011, that the Norman, Oklahoma police department requests passwords as part of an employment background check. But perhaps police work is one area where such a thorough background check is warranted. What if you’re just in customer service?

Many organizations want to know what kind of person you really are, and if you can help sell their products to your friends. Your personal space, now cluttered with ads, involves not only friends and family but now you’ve got coworkers, employers, and clients not only wanting to see what you’ve put in there but also wanting to use your personal life and personal contacts to promote them and their products. ” ‘Like’ me/my company/my product! Join my group! Share this information with your friends!”

If something is actually relevant, sure, I don’t mind. I don’t mind sharing a link to a concert I know a lot of my contacts will want to go to, or a status about how I got a promotion or had a great vacation. I don’t want to recommend something I don’t really care about, and marketers — good marketers — understand that this kind of personal recommendation ONLY works if it’s relevant. If I’m the type of person who keeps recommending products and things I don’t truthfully care about, it will show, and my list of friends will start ignoring everything I post, or worse, removing or blocking me as I spam them incessantly.

So do you create a “work” profile and a “personal” profile to keep both your friends and your career contacts happy, respectively? Do you stick to your guns and not do any work with your personal accounts (I mean, it’s not like work would like it if you did personal things with your work accounts, so why do they expect the opposite, right)? Do you give up on social media altogether in order to keep a semblance of privacy?

Why are we letting personal privacy get trampled over by our need to post those detrimental pictures of that time we got drunk and danced on tables for the world to see? On the flip side, why are we letting marketers and employers into our private lives? How far do we let this go before we stop playing the game?

If I start disappearing from your feeds, don’t take it personally. I’m just curious to see what happens when I don’t give everyone everything they want.

More? Ironically, I’m writing this at work, and this is a great place to mention a book I worked on: Manage Your Online Reputation. It’s about just that: how to make sure that when people look for you online, they’re not going to find what you don’t want them to find. It’s up to you to inform yourself about your own online visibility and reputation; I think the book is worth a read, if only to scare you off of over-sharing. If you’re interested, you can read more about it in the US here or in Canada here.

One thought on “Will Curiosity Kill the Social Media Cat?

  1. A recent security concern that has been circulating on Facebook which makes many user's accounts an easy target!

    PERSON SETTINGS – IMPORTANT: While on Facebook, look at your address URL. If you see http: instead of https: then you DO NOT have a secure session and you can be hacked. FB's default is the non-secure setting, but you can change it: go to Account | Account Settings | Account Security & click Change. Click the checkbox for the first setting. Pls repost & spread the word.

    This article could be helpful to some readers….. http://mashable.com/2011/02/07/facebook-privacy-g

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