Privacy Policy – Read at Least One of These

A site’s privacy policy is one of the most important documents you should read, especially when you need to sign up for an account. Every website should have one, and it should detail exactly what kind of data it’s collecting from you, how they’re going to use that information, and who is entitled to that information if and when they get sold, bought, or merged. The privacy policy is a sister-document to the User Agreement or Terms and Conditions, which usually states that by using the site, you are also agreeing to some level of data collection by way of tracking cookies and IP Address logs.

True, these two documents aren’t the most thrilling pieces of writing in the world, but it’s very important that you familiarize yourself with the type of language they use. Also you’re agreeing to something! Why would you ever agree to something if you don’t understands the terms and conditions? We’re all in the habit of clicking “Yes, I agree to the Terms and Conditions” box just to get to the next screen. Most of the time no harm will come of it, but do understand that the legalese most often protects the site owner first and the users second.

Most importantly though, the privacy policies of a website will state that the information they collect about you will be shared with their partners, including advertisers, in order to better target you as a potential buyer of a product or service. A great number of sites are connected to Google, which means that your searches and its contents are being monitored, collected, and shared with any company partnered with Google so that ads relevant to your interests are more likely to pop up in banners, side panels, and “promoted” sections of other sites you visit.

Don’t willfully put yourself in the dark about this type of practice. Read over a privacy policy and user agreement at least once just to see how your personal information is being used. If you don’t care, carry on. If you do, then learn ways to protect yourself by doing research, or by reading more posts from my blog. No pressure! Just letting you know it’s there!

The Facebook Giveaway Scam

1410308663747

You must’ve seen it before: Pages on Facebook claiming to give away FREE iPads, iPhones, and other Apple accessories. That’s right, FREE! Did I mention it was FREE? All you need to do is Like and Share the Page with all your friends and you’ll be automatically entered into this FREE giveaway! Simple, right? So what are you waiting for?

STOP!!!

Before you agree to any terms and conditions set out by this “altruistic” Facebook Page, just note one thing: IT’S ALWAYS A SCAM! Unless you see news from an official Apple source and not just some Page that was created a month ago (that’s right, check the creation date of the Page!), your default reaction should always be “It’s a scam!” Every. Single. Time.

So what do they get out of someone just sharing a Page? Information about you, and everyone you get to share. How? Take a look at this section here:

Share What do you suppose happens when you click on the number of shares so far? It shows you a list of everyone who shared the Page, image, or post, which in turn gives you access to any public information on those people’s accounts, including geographic location, email addresses, websites, and even phone numbers. In the world of scam artists, this type of information is absolutely crucial, especially when the old method of acquiring that sort of information requires the purchase of mailing lists, which can be unreliable and expensive. By participating in these Facebook scams, you’re literally helping the scam artist! So what comes next after your Like and Share? Most likely they will have a link for you to click on that requires you to fill out a simple survey to enter completely. Like so:

Giveaway

Notice that the top three “offers” you have to complete involves installing something on your computer. Any time anyone tells you to install something so that you get something else for free, they’re either scammed or trying to scam you. The rest are surveys you need to fill out, which requires you to enter your email address, name, phone number, physical address, and date of birth. Getting this type of info from you is every scam artist’s wet dream! Not only that, let’s take a look at the privacy policy of these so called “survey” and “contest” sites:

privacy noticeShown above are the last 3 segments of a long privacy policy that basically says that you’re agreeing to let them sell or transfer your personal information to anyone, including third parties, if their company ever gets bought, merges with another company, creates an alliances with another company, etc. Oh, and also they can change their Privacy Policy at anytime without notice to you, because the onus is on YOU to come back and check the page. Any legitimate company or website worth their salt will send you a notice via email.

These types of scams are incredibly effective because they take advantage of the hype built up by official companies like Apple, who spent millions of dollars to generate hype and demand. Scam artists take advantage of this by using powerful and enticing terms like “FREE” (notice the all caps for emphasis), and “Giveaway”. Everyone wants free stuff; it’s a very basic marketing tactic that’s been around as long as commerce. Don’t participate in it. The battle to end the trade and sale of your personal information begins with you! Be mindful of marketing language, and more importantly, always be aware that scams are still a rampant problem. Every new social platform gives these crooks and criminals a new way to implement their old tricks. Remember: in the world of social media, protecting yourself also means protecting your friends and family.

When You TELL Your Story, You SELL Your Story

Every once in a while it’s nice to see a credible source confirming your ideas on marketing and social media, namely how you should approach supposed “best practices” that seem to rehash the same strategies over and over again. It makes you wonder if there has been any progress in the industry, or if the writers of these articles are just summarizing other people in a huge circle of paraphrasing that leads nowhere. In any case, I’ve always pushed for companies to use social networks in a very basic way: as a social network rather than just a marketing tool. This means your company or business needs to have a personality. It needs to have a story. Check out this TED Talk with Simon Sinek, says “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The most important circle, the center of everything, is WHY you do something, and that’s where your story comes in. The “why” does not mean “to make a profit”, but rather a personal statement on what you’re trying to achieve independent of whether or not people want to buy your product. What does your company’s mission mean to you, CEO? What special significance does the product have for you, Social Marketer? Look at number two on this Forbes article titled “Increase Customer Acquisition by 400% With Storytelling“: Be a trusted person not trying to sell something. This incredibly important method of utilizing social networks for marketing purposes requires you to be a person whose personality emulates that of an expert fan of your company. You need to be as enthusiastic about your product as your most loyal customer, providing information in palatable, easy-to-understand terms, as well as an inside look at the company’s inner workings. The person you hire to fill this roll needs to be an inside source for your audience, a spy that can give them exclusive information in a seemingly secretive way, but also on a highly visible stage: social media sites. Be human. Sound human. Something as simple as a reminder any questions can be handled through private messaging or even a form on your site will create an open and welcome environment for your target audience. Once you find a healthy balance between human activities and company marketing, you’re going to reach people in a more meaningful way.

Are Businesses the Bane of Social Networks?

The support of big corporations means big money for any site, especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but does business involvement ruin the social experience for everyone? I think so. If you introduce money and profit into social networking, then the entire package becomes a business. The social network needs revenue to pay for ever-expanding server and maintenance costs, and businesses want to advertise to as many people as possible; what better way to do so that with social media? It’s where people focus their attention, not only during downtime, but also during work, on lunch breaks, and any time a free moment presents itself. We are a connected generation, and for that reason alone we are being sold to the highest bidder, often from right under our noses. Most people don’t even realize it?

So what about you is being sold? Information, of course. Every time you visit a site, click a link, click into and out of a social network, or read an article, data about you is being collected using tracking cookies. Your behavior, your likes and dislikes, the activities and interactions between you and your family – all of this is being monitored, quantified, and studied in order for corporations to advertise to you more effectively. Why are clickbait articles so rampant? Because people on social networks are clicking on them. Each site featuring these clickbait articles and lists knows exactly where you came from, who shared the referral link, how long you spent on their site, and how often you click on similar articles. They then pay Facebook advertising money to shove more of the same articles into your newsfeed. Don’t you ever wonder why ads seem to only feature things you’ve looked at or are interested in? It’s because you’re being watched.

When a social network cares more about the money it makes and less about the communities it fosters and the connections its users make with each other, it starts to show over time. Facebook’s Pages now longer have the organic (unpaid) reach it used to, because, according the Facebook admins, they want reduce SPAM. The people most affected by this: small companies, start-ups, and people who want to get a leg up in a vast community that used to be a treasure trove of potential followers. You can access the people you want to follow your Page…you just have to pay to make it happen. So no, Facebook, it’s not about reducing SPAM. You’re a multi-billion dollar company. You can find a way to fix this problem without hamstringing everyone who can’t afford to pay.

Ello’s Invite-Only Platform, Paid Features

I am currently a member of Ello, the latest social network that is primed to take on Facebook and win the hearts and minds of users with its seemingly altruistic philosophy. No advertising, options to opt out of standard data collection on users, and more importantly, a free-to-use network that will never set a mandatory price. It appears the only way to become a member of Ello is to submit your email and wait for an invite from the Ello admins, or to have a friend who is already a member send you an invite. Every new account can invite up to 5 people. While I get that it could help weed out potential fake accounts, I also see it as a weakness, and a cumulative one at that. One spam account can invite up to 5 spam accounts, each with the ability to invite up to 5 spam accounts. Hopefully Ello will spend a little time explaining how they would combat an exploit like that. Let’s move on to my experience so far!

First Impressions

Ello’s in its beta phase, so I will refrain from being too harsh. My first impression is one of slight confusion. There’s minimal wordage from the moment you log in. There are two main sections: “Friends” and “Noise”. In the friends section you will find your friends listed in nice, cute bubbles with the news feed to the right of them, which only shows posts from people you’re following. Everything else goes into Noise. Nice.

My second impression of Ello is that everything is very simple. A little too simple. The site features a lot of white space and no visible borders, leaving the user in a sort of nebulous floating space. On top of being none too crazy about the font choice, the reply features are faded out until you roll your mouse over them, so text seems to get lost in the vast emptiness of Ello. There is no like system that made Facebook famous, but you do get the number of views and the ability to comment. No longer will people be able to quantify exactly how much people like a post. I actually admire the omission of the “Like” function. It makes Ello a place for people, not businesses, and it’s the presence of businesses that turn social networks into advertising platforms.

Verdict: In its current state, I would describe Ello as a more social version of Tumblr with a sprinkle of Twitter.

Paid Features

The paid features aspect of Ello has given me pause. I’m curious to know exactly what features they plan to include, especially if they’re touting the whole “free-to-use” philosophy. Right off the bat I will guess that for several dollars (perhaps $4.99), you will be allowed to have additional invites so you can migrate more of your friends over from Facebook. I’ll even go as far as guessing that current beta users will be given extra invites as a thank you from the Ello admins. The upcoming features section has “Private Accounts” listed. I hope this will be a free feature and not something you have to pay for. I’m actually quite excited to see where Ello will go and how it will evolve as it gains more users. Make more videos! Keep us in the loop!

An Ad-Free Social Network? What’s Your Deal, Ello?

ello2Have you heard of Ello? I recently found out about this brand new social network that’s currently in a beta phase. If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you will know that I am a staunch advocate for online privacy, especially against advertisers and sites that will sell your personal information to the highest bidder for the purpose of flashing banner ads in your face. Some of the largest offenders of this philosophy: social networks. Ello, however, seems to be a proponent of the user’s right to privacy, claiming in their manifesto that they do not and will not ever have advertising on their site. For this reason, they and the people who back this social network have dubbed it the “Anti-Facebook”. At first I was suspicious. If they become as popular as Facebook, how will they pay for all their server costs? Every company needs to generate some sort of revenue in order to keep their operations running, right? Their About page explains it all.

It appears Ello will be running on a Freemium platform, which many people have seen in the gaming industry. For those unfamiliar with the term, freemium platforms offer a base service free of charge, but with special features in the form of microtransactions. In other words, you have the initial account for free, but if you want small special features, you need to pay a small sum of money to have it. I am a gamer myself, so the freemium motto is no news to me, nor is it a practice that I support; most freemium games include tons of advertising to generate their revenue. In Ello’s case, it appears it may be a necessary practice for the purpose of generating revenue, since they won’t include any advertising.

My verdict: I will request an invitation. Hopefully I will be able to join and see what features they offer and compare them to Facebook’s functions. I will also be keeping an eye on what the base service offers and what paid special services will be available in the future. Hopefully they will be very separate functions that don’t look like they should be a part of the base service. You know, stuff like paying $3 to streamline your menus so that anyone who paid for this special service will have a much more convenient time navigating the site, whereas the base service members have a nearly unusable platform. Keep this in mind, Ello: don’t make the paid services a necessary feature for your users to have a satisfactory experience. The network itself should stand on its own!

Employers: Where Are Your Best Social Advocates?

When people think of social media and social popularity, the first instinct is to try and find influencers somewhere on your social networks. True, they may be out there: wildly popular people and accounts that can make or break your reputation with a single tweet or post, inexplicably large followings on a page that, for no reason, stand out above the rest. But have you considered taking a closer look at the people you’ve already employed? What do you know about them? What is their social standing online? You might already have a minor Internet celebrity on your payroll, so take the time to get to know your employees an co-workers. They might just be the boost you’re looking for!

The social quality of your employees largely depends on how much you’ve invested in your online presence. The more invested you are, the more “connected” your employees tend to be. While it’s wonderful to hire someone who knows how to use social networks as a marketing tool, it’s also equally important to have someone who uses these networks on a daily basis for their basic purposes: to be social! To influence people, you need to be a people person. You need to know how to be social, and that’s a lesson that many companies tend to forget, especially social media marketing companies on Twitter! Instead of being social and present online, most of these marketing agencies tweet links and articles to their own materials and seldom interact with the people following them. What kind of message is that sending? How is it that you cannot practice what you preach and be expected to be taken seriously? I’ve encountered at least one agency that seems to be getting it right: Uptown Treehouse. While I’m wary of any social marketing agency that follows me on Twitter, this one actually takes the time to answer questions and tweet back their followers. Kudos on avoiding my blocklist!

So before you decide to hire someone based on their supposed online presence, take a very close look at the quality of their submissions. Are they all links? Do they actually have conversations with people? Do their follower counts really reflect their social influence online? This last question is extremely important for one reason: anyone can buy followers by the thousands! If you didn’t know that, then I suggest you read my blog entries about buying Facebook Likes and automated programs. Take stock of how well your current employees use the social networks you’re paying to utilize as marketing tool. To influence users, you have to be a user.