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August 27, 2008

Yes, it absolutely is EVIL to track members' phone calls...

...unless they're calling you.

Wes asked me to elaborate on my earlier post about potentially data mining member tweets. He commented:

Ben, care to expound on this? How is collecting and analyzing data freely given by our constituents "evil"? Is it evil to track phone calls from your members and mine them for information?
See, generally speaking, tweets aren't intended to be read by just anyone. They're intended for your followers or specific users. Sure, you can read them (go ahead, have a peek at my tweets: I don't mind), but doing anything more than reading them (i.e. systematically analyzing them or trying to profile me based on them) would be just plain wrong. Why? Because they weren't necessarily intended for you, that information doesn't belong to you, and you haven't told me that this is what you intend to do. Eavesdropping on tweets is akin to eavesdropping at a restaurant. Definitely a faux pas. Some might even say it's evil. In other words, just because you CAN analyze data freely given by members doesn't mean you SHOULD analyze data freely given by members.

The exception would be listening to tweets about your organization, using a Twitter search tool. Listening and responding to tweets about your organization is akin to overhearing one member say to another that they have a problem, and then politely interrupting with, "Hey, I work for them. Let me fix that for you."

Where it gets fuzzy is with @ messages. If people @ you, would it be okay to mine that data? The message was intended for you, after all. I'd see that as akin to tracking inbound phone calls to your customer service line. But you'd definitely want to be clear about that you're doing it, since data mining tweets is, to the best of my knowledge, pretty uncommon. People assume that companies track phone call data. I seriously doubt they assume their tweets would data mined. Don't violate their trust.

I can't believe I've gotten into this level of detail on data mining tweets. It just goes to show you how treacherous being involved in social media can be. I've written before that there is a boatload of nuanced blogging customs and etiquette. This is just part of it. There are non-obvious customs in facebook, Wikipedia,, forums, flickr, YouTube, etc.

If you're staking any part of your member engagement strategy on social media, make sure you don't inadvertently piss off the very people you're trying to attract by committing SocMed sins.

(Sorry for the shameless plug, but this area can be so overwhelming that Jeff De Cagna and I are working together help organizations avoid stepping in social media $#@&. Let us know if we can be of service.)

Tagged: ; ; ;


Lisa Junker said...

Really interesting post, Ben! It's such a complicated issue--I think it's easy to forget how much personal information we "leak" online today, and how easy it is for organizations and companies to track and mine it. And of course the last thing you want to do is make members feel like Big Brother is watching you.

How do you feel about tracking blog posts related to your organization? Are they different from what you've laid out here about Tweets, or different? When I did PR, we definitely tracked news stories and publication clips related to our association, and I tended to track blog posts in the same way. What do you think?

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Tracking blog posts is no different than tracking tweets. Listen and reply to stuff when your organization is mentioned, but beyond that, proceed with great caution.

Wes Trochlil said...

As they say, Ben, we'll have to agree to disagree. To parphrase Unfrozen Caveman, "I'm just a caveman, and I don't understand your strange, social media customs."

Anything that one voluntarily posts for the public to see, be it tweets, blogs, or comments, is fair game. In my opinion, there isn no implied social contract of privacy for something one voluntarily makes public.

And as for the use of the word "evil," I like to reserve that for things that truly are evil, like, say, Saddam Hussein and his sons.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Mr. Rumsfeld, I don't appreciate you impersonating Wes in comments on my blog. That's just evil.

Seriously, though... If anything expressed in public is "fair game" why not record casual member conversations in the halls of convention centers?

This isn't about privacy as much as it is about respect, transparency and trust. Notice I never used the word privacy in my posts.

And just because the culture of the social web seems strange doesn't mean it's unimportant or irrelevant. For example, I don't really understand why the Japanese are offended at the sight of a shoe sole, but I would certainly respect the culture and keep my feet on the floor. As I said at the end of this post, "If you're staking any part of your member engagement strategy on social media, make sure you don't inadvertently piss off the very people you're trying to attract by committing SocMed sins."

Ignorance is not a defense, but now you know. Do no evil.

Kevin said...

About a year ago, I received an insane voicemail message from someone who is not a member of ours but is apparently a member of some sort to an affiliated chapter. It was in response to something we did (or didn't do, I don't really remember) and was basically ranting, raving, and swearing.

I downloaded the voicemail (because I can) and forwarded it to the chapter's executive and our board members from the area, which they then sent around to their local leadership, as an example of how emotions were running ridiculously high over this issue.

The individual in question was apparently (I heard from others) very offended that his "private" voicemail was made public. I didn't particularly care (it was a voicemail -- obviously he KNEW it was being recorded, though apparently he was unfamiliar with modern systems that allow voicemails to be downloaded and emailed), and mostly he was obviously just embarrassed at how he came off in his rant, as he should have been.

I mention this completely different sort of example because I find this conversation interesting. People can get offended all they want, but when they place something in a publicly available place, they really have no right to expect "privacy" (or even respect for what they think is proper etiquette in their "space").

I do think that Ben has a point -- people don't want to FEEL like something that FEELS like a private conversation is being mined. But Wes also has a point, which is that if there's data there, why not mine it and use it? The solution, I think, is to use it and mine it in such a way that the people don't know you're doing so -- in much the same way we do with all online behavior. (Most people, I find, have no idea how transparent their behavior is to those of us who own websites, or how we use that knowledge.)

Anyway, very interesting discussion.

Lisa Junker said...

I agree with Kevin--this is a really interesting conversation.

I wonder if the term "data mining" has acquired a negative connotation, at least in the mind of some folks--the idea that "data mining" isn't just gathering and analyzing data, it's using that data to target or sell to me as an individual. I would definitely have a concern about someone coming to me and saying "Hey, I read your blog post about shoes, would you like to buy our shoes?" Especially if they continued to offer to sell me their shoes over and over and over again.

But I also think that tracking social media related to your organization in some way is important, just because it can save you from the common error of reporting that "some people are upset about X" or "a lot of members want to see us do Y." Which members? Where? If you actually keep track, you can report real information.

For me, it goes back to tracking news clips as a PR person. A lot of bloggers don't consider themselves to be journalists, of course, but whether they do or not, their posts can be found on Google just as easily as news clips from a newspaper or magazine. (Tweets, on the other hand, aren't going to pop up as easily on Google in a year or two, and Tweets are more interpersonal messages than articles. So I definitely see a difference between tweets and blog posts there.)

This is definitely more fun than preparing for my next meeting! =)

Lisa Junker said...

And interestingly enough, when I went to check my RSS feed reader this morning, KD Paine just posted about measuring conversations and Twitter.

asteggles said...

Sorry mate, am totally with Wes on this one... if it is posted publicly it is fair game. If you want it private (like a conversation) then email the person and don't post it to the web.

Is tracking web hits/visits/exit points any different conceptually?

Maddie Grant said...

Personally I think any Twitterer has an expectation that his/her tweets are public and searchable. That's why there is such a thing as direct messaging. And I'd say most Twitterers are aware that there are tond pf twitter apps that search for specific content - keywords, hashtags, most popular links, wishes, love/hate/want, etc.

However, there are nuances in how you might respond to a "mined" comment - you could try asking for permission to use it in a blog post, for example, before you posted a public response (although I should say I don't do that, I've posted plenty of others people's tweets and no-one has ever complained, in fact they are usually psyched (as I would be if someone posted one of mine) for the publicity), or you could just @-reply to the person which is like talking to them directly but publicly.

You can't hang out in social spaces and not want anyone to interact with you.