Big Data and the Trust Paradox

We have all become blasé about the information that we share on the internet. We openly tweet, share updates, create photos and post images about where we are, what we are doing and who we are with. We carry our mobile phones with us everywhere – and have become so reliant upon them that we have had to name a condition for the state of anxiety we find ourselves in when we leave our phones at home. It is “nomophobia” – literally the fear of having “no mobile”.

And just as our internet connection is “always on”, so too is our phone. And being always on, it’s always collecting, sharing and posting data about us. Even when it’s sitting “idle” in our pockets it is triangulating our position, beaming our latitude and longitude to satellites, connecting to wifi hotspots and cellular phone towers. Many of the apps that we use also collect and share our location – some are obvious like Google Maps and Facebook. Others not so. But it’s when we start using the phone, that the data really explodes.

The following infographic is now quite old, being originally published in 2010. It shows the “meta data” – the hidden data that is relayed along with every update that you make using Twitter. It’s not just the 140 characters of your message, but hundreds of additional characters that accompany your message, including your:

  • User name
  • Biography
  • Location
  • Timezone
  • Follower / following statistics.

And more. So much more.


Trading privacy for convenience

The accepted wisdom is that users of these services are knowingly trading privacy for convenience. The reality is vastly different. After all, when using the internet, we are not working in full knowledge. In fact, our understanding of what we are doing, how much information we are revealing and where our data goes is extremely limited. And even when we choose to share location information with an app or when we accept notifications, chances are that we will forget that consent has been given. Or the context in which that consent was given will become lost in the daily grind of our busy, connected lives.

This plays well for those platforms that collect, harvest and sell the data of their users. In fact, it’s one of the business models that many startups rely upon – data collection, harvesting, sale and exploitation is the name of the main game. But there is change in the air, and we can expect that these business models will increasingly come under greater scrutiny and pressure. A 2014 an EMC poll revealed that only 27% of those surveyed were willing to trade their private information for a more convenient online experience. And over half (51%) straight out said “no”. Moreover:

The majority also believed “businesses using, trading or selling my personal data for financial gain without my knowledge or benefit” were the greatest threat to their online privacy.

These beliefs and expectations were further reinforced in the Pew Research Center’s Future of Privacy report, where “Some 55% of these respondents said “no” they do not believe that an accepted privacy-rights regime and infrastructure would be created in the coming decade”.

Yet despite an inherent and ongoing suspicion of corporations and governments, the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2016 reveals that the general sense of trust is improving. Edelman’s research describes a well educated and well-resourced segment of the population (approximately 15%) as the “informed public” – and measures trust in the wider population as well as this narrower segment. To qualify for the segment “informed public”, people must be:

  • Aged 25-64
  • College educated
  • In the top 25% of household income per age group in each country
  • Significant consumers of media and report high engagement in business news.

This also means that the “informed public” would be considered a “tech savvy” audience.

While trust has grown overall, it has accelerated faster between 2015 and 2016 in the “informed public” segment. And this is what makes this report so interesting. Despite a wide and growing concern around big data, meta data and data analytics, those who are MOST LIKELY to know and understand the use to which their data will be put, are reporting an improvement in their sense of trust.

And it is this “Trust Paradox” which offers both hope for business and a warning. For while trust has been improving, business and government is only as trusted as the last security breach or unexpected outage. The IBM/Forbes’ Fallout Report estimates that “lost revenues, downtime and the cost of restoring systems can accrue at the rate of $50,000 per minute for a minor disruption”. A prolonged problem would take an even greater toll on brand reputation and business goodwill.

The risk of a breach or outage, however, is not shrinking but growing, thanks to the proliferation of “shadow technology”, expanding supply chains and growing online activism. And as digital transformation continues to take on an ever greater role in customer experience, the potential for consumer impact and reputational damage also grows.

John Hagel suggests that as brands work towards a “trusted advisor” status, that they will have a “growing ability to shape customer purchasing behaviour”. But brands will only have this luxury while the Trust Paradox works in their favour. At present, the Edelman Trust Barometer suggests the balance of power remains with our peers. We trust them more than anyone else. And that means securing or “scaling trust” (using John Hagel’s terms) remains our real challenge in the years ahead.

Does Medium Matter?

When publishing platform Medium burst onto the internet a while back, it seemed like fresh life had been breathed into a stale medium (no pun intended). The integrated comments, sharing and community building capabilities were a fantastic way to turn the one-way, author-to-reader format on its head. And the limited release, invitation only availability drove demand for access superbly.

Medium also arrived at a time when LinkedIn’s publishing platform was growing in popularity. As a centre of gravity for business conversations and thought leadership, LinkedIn’s clunky Pulse technology could rely on its integrated access to YOUR business networks and news feeds, and seemed to grow on a daily basis. Using the same “influencer-led” strategy to launch, LinkedIn initially restricted access to the publishing platform, creating a clear distinction between those who had access and those who did not, but this was gradually relaxed, and the publishing platform began to open to others.

Yet as the “thought leadership” grew, so too did the clutter. LinkedIn attempted to categorise content to create a feed of relevancy as did Medium. It reminded me a little of the proliferation of blogs a few years back – resulting in an explosion of content and comment. But there is a clear difference. All this content are building OTHER PEOPLE’S networks. And those networks are picking winners – based on a few random elements (also known as algorithms).

In this experiment on Medium, Henry Wismayer, shows not only the new challenge of surfacing “new” voices on these new platforms, he also suggests that there has to be a deeper alignment. That the algorithm is not value free, but self-referential and self-reinforcing. You are either part of the game or you are well out of it:

The ease with which Triumvirate articles — even depressingly hollow ones — accrue views and Recommends provides an irresistible incentive for other people to follow the formula. As a result, Medium risks becoming a click-bait factory, a lame production line pumping out articles around the same limited themes.

And the point is that this is all a game. And can be gamed.

The core factor here is trust. Who do we trust and why?

In a time poor world, we increasingly rely on technology to filter the signal from the noise. But increasingly, there is a blandness to the experience of the “world wide web”. It’s no longer worldly nor wide.

And this is where the true opportunity lies. Medium has become, for me at least, a vast, shallow sea of thinly veiled opinion masquerading as insight. It’s not offering the richness it promised in the early days. In many ways, it’s the distinction that Alana Fisher calls out between subject matter expertise and thought leadership.

And the same is true for LinkedIn. Will either of these platforms matter in 2017? Perhaps they are simply on the path to inevitable disruption. Perhaps it’s not that Medium doesn’t matter, but that media itself is under threat. Now, that’s an interesting thought.

Forget Millennials – Trust is the Secret Sauce of Online Commerce

The topic of “trust” is one that we return to over and over again. No matter whether we are wanting to build awareness, consideration or purchase for our business, or establish ourselves online as thought leaders, every word we write, every video we produce and every image we take and share online has ONE CLEAR MISSION. To build trust with our audiences.

When Acquity Group surveyed 2000 US-based consumers on brand engagement, there were plenty of insights and data points. Take a look at the infographic below for a neat summary.

But look deeper. The underlying theme of every data point isn’t the shifting power of millennial consumers. It isn’t about the devices we choose or use. It isn’t even about what we buy or when. It is the REASON we TRUST.

And when it comes to social media, the TRUST EQUATION is simple:

TRUST = Reputation + Action

So the question you need to be asking yourself about your next campaign, your next innovation or project is not “who can I target” but “How do I build trust”. And if you answer that question, you may find that the rest of the marketing funnel falls into place.



Earned Audiences–Where Twitter Meets TV

There was a time when sitting down in front of the TV was a family affair. It was me, Dad, Mum and maybe a dog. The little brother was tucked up in bed and the little sister, well, she was far off into the future. And while there would be the occasional conversation – mostly during the ad breaks between episodes of Prisoner – or when the footy would break at the end of six – watching TV was a shared experience with limited variation.

These days, the tables have turned.

Sure, we still arrange rooms around a large glowing screen. But it’s not just one glowing screen in the room any longer. The big one on the wall fights for attention with the various smaller devices – smartphones, tablets and notebooks that adorn our laps. TV is no longer the centre of authority in our night’s entertainment – it’s just the context for a much broader conversation.

TV shifts from content to context

One of the most interesting transformations that has come about in recent years is the demotion of TV from centre of an experience to the frame for that experience. These days, TV is just the start of a conversational journey that happens within a home. From there, hundreds, thousands, millions of streams of opinion, humour, sarcasm and even spoilers, issue forth from the devices of the people who are consuming shows while simultaneously co-creating as-yet-unwritten meta-narratives via Twitter, Facebook and specialist apps like Beamly or GetGlue. The shows provide the context into which “prosumers” pour their creative energies and content.

What does this look like?

ABC’s Q&A program creating earned audiences

QandAtweetsA great example of social media connecting audiences is Australian Broadcasting Service’s Q&A program. Actively curated for live amplification during broadcasting, the #QandA stream prompts conversations amongst participants, friends and connections along with a generous smattering of online trolling and vitriol.

Some participants argue with points raised live on the show, some share links supporting their arguments and others just simply throw their best lines into the void hoping that their 140 characters will somehow be picked up and shared with the TV audience. One of the more prolific protagonists, Wolf Cocklin, has gone so far as to create a line of #QandA related merchandise that he sells via creative community/marketplace, Red Bubble.

Tellingly, this audience sprang up organically, adopting the #QandA hashtag and generating a massive stream of content. At first, the QandA producers appeared unaware or uncertain of how to approach this new community of viewers. After all, they were at times, unruly and prone to swearing. But as an “earned audience”, it was icing on the cake of broadcasting. For while TV runs multiple rounds of surveys to understand (and extrapolate) viewership, people who participate using #QandA:

  • Self identify
  • Reveal a range of interests via their profile and publishing
  • Share networks of others
  • Rally audiences and grow reach

In many ways, this audience is the programmer’s dream. So it makes sense that before too long, tweets began appearing on-screen and spurred on by the promise of 5 seconds of fame, participants responded, growing a massive audience that spans Australia’s three timezones.

The last couple of months has also seen participants publishing their tweets many hours ahead of broadcasting. This strategy seems designed to maximise the possibility of a tweet being broadcast. After all, the views of the show’s panellists are known in advance as are the hot topics of the moment. And if you can give the producers a few easy, early tweets that can be loaded into the system, then everyone wins.

Bridging the brand and consumer gap with earned audiences

While the lessons from #QandA are interesting, it would appear at first glance, that going from “conversation to conversion” is more challenging. For some time, marketers have been keen to identify the connection between social media and sales – with many giving up the ghost. But new research sponsored by Twitter seems to suggest that Twitter-based brand exposure does indeed drive action. This includes:

  • Visiting brand websites
  • Visiting brand Twitter pages
  • Searching for the brand
  • Consider trying the brand
  • Retweeting the brand

As expected, the tweets that originated from the brand were less effective than those that originated organically (or appeared to be organic).

While this is interesting research, it smacks a little of research that shows that “radio ads are more effective”. For no matter how engaged or how “managed” a branded social channel may be, Twitter chats, hashtags and the like remain wild, contested territories for brands. Yes, there can be cut through, but it comes with risks.

And while the stickiness, energy and passion that comes with social media may be the flame to the marketer’s moth, an earned audience is not a PERMISSIVE audience. And just because people are talking about you, doesn’t mean that they want to talk TO you. That requires a whole different level of trust. And it’s a world away from TV.


Gut Feel Wins Out – 50 Planners to Watch in 2014

When we have a question, we search the web with Google. When we want to get or share an opinion, we turn to Twitter. And when we want to learn or share, we read blogs, take a Skillshare class or watch a YouTube video.

There is no doubt that a great deal of our contemporary experiences are mediated by technology. And as the torrent of content crashes through our various streams, from email to RSS, search to social, we unwittingly give over to algorithms, analytics and charts. It’s easy. Reliable. A matter of fact.

But there is a tyranny in data that we have not yet come to grips with. There are subtleties in creativity and nuance in piecing together the strands of commonality that can be woven together to create new stories or imagined futures. We are so overwhelmed that we have fallen back on data, facts and information – not as the only source of truth, but as the most convenient. As a result, we miss that emotional twang that reminds us that amongst the raging sea of ideas, executions, plans and analyses – there are real people at either end of the things that we produce.

One of the antidotes to this is to embrace the power of subjectivity.

Now, I am not advocating wild “feelpinions” – which are always laden with prejudice and politics. But what if we were, in fact, to respect a body of work, an individual’s expertise and their peers’ recommendations? No, I’m not making a comment on the volatile nature of contemporary Australian politics. I’m tipping my hat to the hand picked list of 50 planners to watch in 2014 compiled by Julian Cole and Liane Siebenhaar. In their own words:

Rather than rating blog views, Twitter followers or other unreliable performance indicators, we picked people who produce interesting content and innovations. People we’d like to have a coffee and hangout with. The people we think we can learn from in 2014.

And that’s a good enough recommendation for me.

Trust is Up across Australia–Edelman Trust Barometer

One of the more useful and interesting regular reports is the Edelman Trust Barometer. Each year, thousands of people are surveyed – and the global and national results for 2014 have now been published. It’s well worth a deep dive into the information, statistics and analysis. But one of the standout observations is that “Trust in every institution is at its highest point”.


This is particularly interesting for a number of reasons:

  • Locally we have emerged from a particularly tumultuous election cycle. While trust in government has improved – the growth in trust in the NGO sector has accelerated. We increasingly place our trust in independent organisations NOT governments
  • Business leaders and CEOs remain at the bottom of the trust heap. This may not be an issue for many organisations but for businesses that operate in high-touch environments, CEO profile can have a significant impact on a range of indicators from share price to employee morale, net promoter score etc
  • Experts are back on the favoured list – with the public increasingly supportive of experts and academics.

If – as we expect – the connection between social media / business / life becomes much more nuanced and integrated through 2014, then trust will become a much more important factor in our business, professional, personal and social lives. And for organisations wanting to remain relevant in the lives of connected consumers, that trust counts.

The question for marketers is – have you built trust into business DNA? Because now more than ever, marketing = business and business = marketing.

It’s Not Risk. It’s Gaining Trust

We often (still) hear stories of businesses and individuals fearing social media. And if you listen closely to what is being said, you will hear the fear. You will hear anxiety.

And when you hear about those folks who brave social media – who push the envelope within their organisation, you will hear them talk about managing risk. Engaging stakeholders. Dealing with the randomness.

But this great TED Talk by Amanda Palmer reveals a new way of thinking about this.

What if, rather than managing risk, we were to think about “gaining trust”. What would that mean for the way we approach our customers, audiences, stakeholders and employees?

And how would it change what we do.

IMG_9400 bluedance via Compfight