Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stalk Marketing: How Far is Too Far?

Social Media gives brands and advertisers a new level of access to their customers. When used well it's a Win/Win. As usual, Jeremiah Oywang sums it up perfectly.

It seems easy when the situation is simple:

Customer: I really need a stainless steel waffle iron.

Waffle Iron Maker: Buy mine here.

Transaction Complete.

But, what happens when the brand wants to continue the conversation? At what point does it shift from marketing to stalkering? Yesterday Chris Schultz asked the Twittersphere their opinion on getting an unsolicited DM from a local establishment after making a purchase. The responses definitely trended toward creepy. On the other hand to quote a girlfriend "JCrew could call me at 3am and I would happily answer the phone."

So, consider this scenario...

You are browsing the interactive Anthropologie aisles, throwing embroidered cardigans in your cart willy nilly. After amassing Supermarket Sweep-style quantities of couture, you head to your cart for some editing. (Bedazzled boy shorts? Seemed practical. But, on second thought... Click. Delete.) So, you've narrowed it down to the necessities. But, alas, you must abandon your cart for whatever reason- indecisiveness, bankruptcy, kitchen fire. When you return 2 days later to seal the deal, the object of your affection is *gasp* SOLD OUT!

In this situation, would it be intrusive for the retailer to send you a head's up that there are only 3 size 2 dresses left? (Shhh, online anyone can be a size 2) What if they sent a coupon for 20% off those adorable flats languishing in e-commerce purgatory? Or a recommendation on a new blouse in stock that would look great with the slacks you bought last week? How far is too far?

And what makes some engagement tactics better than others? Is it the approach? The offer? The circumstance?

It's a whole new game, and the rule book is still being written. As a professional in social media, I occasionally find myself questioning how to use the Web 2.0 tools at my disposal to avoid overstepping the bounds. At the end of the day, I try to remain honest, offer value and ask myself how I would want to be approached. Game Plan Golden Rule.


Chris said...

Good stuff. One thing that I've found is that people talk more about online stalking being creepy when they hear it described for the first time, but then when it adds value to their lives, they accept it and deal. Witness a lot of Facebooks moves, even Google w/ Adsense. There was a huge uproar when Google first put Adsense in email "google's reading my email?!?!?". When's the last time you heard someone complain about it?

Someone will figure this out with Twitter. The whole point is to be able to leverage communities offline, connect online relationships offline. I think that someone will make a lot of money figuring out how to connect offline customer experiences to online customer relationship building.

When I thought that a store had tweeted me thanks for coming it, it felt a little creepy, but frankly it felt cooler that they were on twitter and had taken the time and effort to connect with me.

Andy said...

I look at it from 2 angles.

First, lets cover personally. It concerns me how they are getting this information and the fact that my information is being used in this manner. Company A and B have no idea I am on twitter especially on my cell phone. So at some stage they are using my personal information (which I have not consented to just by purchasing product A from store B). I get enough tweets from people I want to talk to or follow without having to sort through them to look for stuff I didn't want or ask for. Most of these companies already ask for your email address to send you marketing emails now.

Professionally, this creates all sort of issues. Most companies today use some form of internet/email connected phone. We (IT Managers) can't really regulate what software is and isn't put on these devices. A user installs any one of the free twitter apps on the web. So far really not a problem, outside that they have installed unauthorized software on a company device. They buy product C from Company A. Company A now uses the information given to them(again not consented for Company A to use) to send this user a DM. We do not have SMS messages in some of our phone packages (like some of the blackberries we have). Now you are charging each of our phones an extra fee per message you send us. That charge gets passed on to the user of the phone for overages and is taken out of their check. Users come and go and phones and numbers get recycled. Now you have user 2 getting bothered by user 1's personal purchase choices.

There are a lot of questions that this type of marketing creates on both sides of the fence. How is the information being stored and protected? How is it being used and by whom? How are the companies figuring out that you are in their stores or using their services? Is there a way to opt out of it if you choose? Who is going to pay the extra charges that the message may cause? Will they adhere to the same restrictions as telemarketers?

jeskaNOLA said...

Great post, Tiff. I think what you are talking about here--getting a follow up email from an online store where you abandoned a shopping cart yesterday--is different from what Chris mentioned about the unsolicited Tweet.

To me, the follow up email from Anthropologie is just good web analytics. Companies have the ability to monitor all kinds of web traffic data, and the majority of this information is ignored. It's understood that for a shopping cart to work, you must have cookies enabled, so it's neither creepy nor terribly surprising to hear from a site you recently visited, especially one where you nearly placed an order.

The unsolicited Tweet thing, on the other hand, is definitely creepy. I see Chris's point that it's cool they're on Twitter and went out of their way to say thank you, but how did they get his Twitter handle? Nearby Tweets? Either way, I'd call it stalk marketing.

Paul Chaney said...

Some call it creepy. I call it extending a digital handshake. (Hey, sounds like a good name for a book!)

Yours Truly said...

It seems like the biggest issue is the opt in. I like the fact that Twitter allows for a personal touch and would be much more accepting of contact there than in my InBox. But, only if it offers me something useful.

(Note to DM spammers: That is not what you are doing! If you can automate it, it isn't personal.)

I like Chris' point about taking it offline. The idea that online interactions are a way to enhance and facilitate offline experience.

Thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...

I think Paul Chaney sounds creepy!

Jac Lynn said...

Golden Rule doesn't work for me here. My clients want to be treated with respect, but that comes in different formats for different people.

How far is too far? When it is further than the permission I've granted. Give me opportunities to grant permission. If a vendor gets annoying, or if I am getting boatloads of stuff I am not reading because I am not interested I will unsubscribe.

I like to feel as if I am in control of what is coming at me.