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Make Facebook and Twitter work for you

Column Turn the tables on the lack of privacy
Thu Apr 05 2012, 14:23

lawrence-latif-2-120x194INSTEAD OF FEEDING social networks with data to increase their power over internet users, there could be a way for users to make social networks work for them by acknowledging their public nature.

The INQUIRER has published many articles that suggest the power of social networks, not the power of connecting people but the actual power held by social networks such as Facebook that are given access to vast amounts of personal data. However there could be a way of beating social networks at their own game, making them work for you, thanks to networking firms flogging kit to scour social networks.

Social networks are abused by the people that use them. An obviously public medium, the majority of users seem to believe that it is perfectly normal to air private matters on them. But if you work on the assumption that whatever is posted on social networks is read by corporations, then you can use them as a sounding board to get customer service. After all, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are some of the most trafficked web sites around, so why not take advantage of them?

Network vendor Avaya demonstrated to The INQUIRER its Social Media Manager software, which it flogs to businesses wanting to use social networks to interact with customers in solving problems. On the face of it, Avaya's system isn't particularly interesting, but our cynical brains picked up on a particularly handy use for such a system - to make Facebook and other social networks work for us.

Avaya's system scours social networks for particular keywords set by the user company, so it is informed when someone is interested in a product or service, or when they complain. The firm produced a live demonstration of the service, and while it vividly illustrated the problems The INQUIRER has written about with social networks, it also showed us how to use social networks to our benefit.

Technically Avaya's Social Media Manager is very impressive, since scouring the vast amount of public data on Facebook or Twitter pin-pointing posts of interest isn't an easy thing to do. Privacy wise, the obvious first question is whether firms using the system can see private messages, to which Avaya replied that its software sees only public posts as determined by Facebook's privacy settings, which may or may not put minds at rest.

Avaya likes to use all sorts of marketing terms with words like 'branding' and 'customer satisfaction levels' to flog the system to customers, but the interesting part of this system is its ability to work for consumers. Instead of giving data to firms like Facebook, using the social networks to disseminate the data you choose could force those companies trawling them into action.

Facebook users could use their wall to engage companies' customer service departments, knowing full well that companies, and of course Facebook, are looking at their posts. Given that this data is public and can be viewed and indexed by a number of web services, companies should feel compelled to go into damage limitation mode.

You could argue, rightfully, that Facebook and others will make the connection about the user's association with the company in question, but given that such data can been gleened from payment services, it is hard to avoid that association becoming public information anyway. The difference here is that the user is taking advantage of the public nature of social networks in their favour, something that traditionally big businesses and celebrities have tried to exploit to their own advantage.

Facebook posts have a longer half-life than Twitter, making them potentially far more damaging for companies. While Twitter has 'trending' topics that bring great attention to a particular person or company, the odd consumer complaint can easily get lost in the noise in a matter of minutes. Facebook on the other hand can display wall posts for days or weeks, and if users have accounts set up solely to interact with companies, then it could be even longer.

Avaya's system might not be the first to trawl through social networks looking for keywords, but it shows how third parties value the data held by social networks. Interestingly the firm's system seems to undermine the saleability of Facebook's data, as firms can make use of public data to handle customer relations. And it's not just retrospective damage control, there's a reason why Avaya claimed a big bank had implemented the system, because how well a company deals with consumer complaints can be valuable marketing.

When users treat social networks as the privacy black hole they are then they could well become a useful tool for individuals. If companies are scared of how well social networks can spread bad news about their brands, then perhaps it is high time that users make use of that power to right personal and public injustices in the world.

By using social networks to shame companies into action, users can stop merely giving data to social networking operations like Facebook and get something useful out of them instead. µ


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