It has become apparent, to even the most casual observer, that as we become more and more entrenched in a socially networked world, the lines between real life and one's online social, professional and private lives are becoming increasingly blurred and indistinct. Furthermore, concepts of fair use, privacy and anonymity are being constantly redefined as people willingly place their personal information, preferences, tastes, prejudices, loves, hates, politics and even details of personal intimacy out in the digital universe. The willingness to share this information freely is a peculiarity of human nature that rewards the astute data miner in ways that could have never been realized even a few years ago. Social media has opened the window into the public's privacy, and as the boundaries between online and real life become less and less distinct, the tools and approaches for gathering marketing data will need to evolve as well. We may be about to witness a worldwide mass extinction as companies that fail to adapt to the challenges of managing, gathering and responding to this emerging data pool lose market share to more adaptable organizations.
This current, voyeuristic peep into individual demographics and unprecedented granularity is just the start. For instance, the integration of social, business and entertainment media under a single, universal user ID is an inevitability that is but a gene flip from becoming evolutionary reality. For the individual, a true single sign on life will simplify accessing personal data, business and personal communications, social and business networking, purchasing, banking and virtually every aspect of the evolving life paradigm that will be as influenced by one's online life as one's real world existence. Of course, all of this information is accessible from one's smart phone or pad. Hence, one's online identity is no longer necessarily subordinate to one's real world existence, and virtually every second of online time produces valuable demographic data at the user ID level — even if it's only identifying periods of low activity. A company that could develop the systems to take full advantage of this information, in real time, would be able to insert themselves into the targeted demographic's experience, at the unit level, and theoretically gain an edge over companies bound by the limits of current sales and marketing tools.
Some of the tools are already out there to begin developing a dynamic database of personal and demographic information, career and professional history and entertainment tastes. In that most of the public, and I would guess all of my readers, have a social networking presence at some level, chances are you've already experienced the pleasure of being mined or, at least, the attempt. The tool presents itself as a fun and innocuous little game, poll or quiz, generally playing on ego or insecurity. A typical app of this ilk will require the tantalized user to release personal information, friend information, profile information and consent to receive email from the app owner in order to access the functional purpose of the app. I won't get into the psychology of why people would release their personal information to find out what their friend answered when asked if they look good in spats, but whatever the motivation, and ethical concerns notwithstanding (after all, you are clearly informed exactly what information you are releasing during installation), these apps are ubiquitous because they do what they're designed to do — mine personal data. It may be that these apps are the next dominant species and are just beginning their evolution into marketing tool dominance.
Effectively managing the increasing and ever-shifting minutiae and personal online habits of huge numbers of potential customers and clients will require both massive data crunching capabilities and robust outbound direct marketing in response. I believe that anything short of real-time response will seriously diminish an organization's competitive edge. As mobile devices develop the capability for ever richer multi-media content and users acclimate to and embrace the integration of their online identities into universal ID and single sign-on to homogenous social platforms, the reaction time between the act that creates demographic data, and the direct marketing response to that act, may well determine which entities are remembered as fossils in the future online marketplace.
DAVE MARTINA [david.martina@NEPS.com] is the vice president of systems integration for NEPS, LLC of Salem, New Hampshire, a firm that provides solutions for the automation of document-intensive business processes.