I've heard it said that if you aren't the customer you are the product. This is in reference to social networks, especially the biggies: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and now Google+. So let me ask you a question, would you pay to use a social network?
I'm reading enough by Patrick Rhone – highly recommended. It makes me wish I spoke with Patrick more when I was in Minnesota before. I'll have to change that…
“Their customer is the advertiser… Their customer is their investors…
Like Neo in the classic science fiction movie, The Matrix, we need to wake up and realize we are nothing but batteries powering otherwise powerless systems.”
– Patrick Rhone, enough
Patrick has one essay titled, “You Are Not The Customer, You Are The Product” in which he reminds us that our use of free social networks does not make us the customer, rather we are the product. They gather our information, package it up and sell it to advertisers. We accept this trade in order for the opportunity to connect with people we may haven't otherwise become connected to.
Or would we? Would we be better or worse off without all these connections? How would our lives be different without them?
Something's Missing Here…
Since reading Return on Influence by Mark Schaefer I've been thinking about how broken so much of business and marketing is. Why? Because despite all of the psychology poured into it a crucial element is lacking – the human element.
Don't get me wrong here, I don't want you to think I'm simply bagging on large corporations. They serve a purpose. They employ millions, they provide utilities at scale, and they (sometimes) bring us useful things that can truly enhance our lives and make it even more fun.
But there's a reason 90% of my clients are entrepreneurs and small businesses, and the large companies I work with provide what I feel are truly useful products and services to their customers.
Remember A Time When…
In The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk reminds us that back in the day, the butcher shop on the corner stayed open because the people behind the counter knew the people on the other side. They were friends outside of the business. Their children went to school together. They went to the same church or other holy place.
That butcher stayed open because he was a real person with a real reputation on the line. His business lived and died based on that reputation. So his incentive was to be friends with his customers, provide a high quality product and a high quality service that both kept his customers coming back, and by sheer awesomeness want them to bring others too.
But I digress, so back to the question at hand…
Nothing Is Free, Nothing
We know for a fact that “free” social networks sell our information to advertisers. It's how they make money. These advertisers then use that information to target us with more relevant ads. I've done it for clients. It can work.
Going back to what Patrick reminds us – that we are the product and are making a tradeoff – let me ask you again: would you pay to use a social network that didn't have any advertising?
What would it take for you to use something like that? Would all of your friends have to be there already? Would it have to have some magical feature that none of the big social networks has? Would it have less?
Does knowing that a social network would not sell your information to advertisers make a difference to you? Or did you make that trade off long ago and resign yourself to that being just how it is?