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Janrain respects your privacy and will treat the personal data you choose to share with us in accordance with our privacy policy.

The Golden Rule of Social Profile Data

By Jamie Beckland | Posted on September 01, 2011

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Social networks collect a lot of data about users – in fact, across all networks, there are millions of new data points created every minute. That’s a wealth of information for marketers to use to customize messaging and offers. Of course, that’s what makes social media marketing so exciting.

It’s easy to see the power and potential of this data, but we must do some work up front to determine how to use this data in ways that are both responsible and useful for users. By and large, the backlash from users toward online privacy comes when users don’t understand what information they are sharing, or how it might be used.

The easiest way to think about how to use social profile data is that old classic, The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

golden rule

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies we can employ to gain the maximum benefit from social data.

Explain the Benefits of Sharing Data

Digital marketing is rife with data collection methods that are opaque and do not clearly communicate to the user how the information will be used, and why they should share it. This is not surprising, given how valuable this data is, but it is disappointing.

Fortunately, user sophistication is increasing and users are paying more attention to how their data may be used. If you rely on the reputation of your brand, it is even more important to hold customer trust and transparency paramount.

Janrain’s terms of service try to articulate this for our own users very clearly and simply, and we recommend that everyone have an easy-to-read policy.


3.1 User Data. Licensee acknowledges and agrees that through its use of the Solution certain personally identifiable User data (“User Data”) may be processed and shared between applicable third party social network and/or identity providers (“Third Party Providers”) and Licensee with which the Solution has been configured by an Administrative User. User accounts with Third Party Providers shall be subject to such Third Party Providers’ then-current terms of use and privacy policies (“Third Party Policies”) and Janrain shall not be responsible for any violation by a Third Party of the Third Party Policies. Licensee is responsible for establishing and enforcing terms of use and privacy policies (“Licensee Policies”) with Users that authorize Licensee’s use of the Solution as permitted under this Agreement and are in compliance with applicable law, including export regulation and data protection legislation.

3.2 System Activity Information. Janrain may store and use certain activity log data relating to the use of the Solution within the Licensee Properties (“System Activity Information”) for its own business purposes.

Barcode Hero also has a no-nonsense, plain language policy that we love because they clearly let the user know why they should use a social profile to login, and promise not to act irresponsibly with the information shared.

barcode facebook pledge

Don’t Be Creepy

The scary vision from Minority Report is now possible. You could allow your website to call out the name of your visitors, trying desperately to get their attention, like this scene from Minority Report in the mall:

It’s easy to see how distracting and inappropriate that type of marketing would be for a user, but it can sometimes be tough to know exactly where the appropriate line is.

In general, we recommend that you not be too personal on the presentation layer. Adding a first name to a login screen is friendly, but elsewhere during the site experience, it can come across as cloying. Stick with a full name or the username the individual has selected.

When referencing friend information, avoid first names alone altogether. Apart from being overly personal, this can also be confusing. Using the friend’s full name ensures that the user is not confused about who you are referring to, and that they are sending the right message to the right person.

Finally, maintain relationships in large groups, unless there is a specific opt-in from the user. You may be able to identify children, spouses, and other familial relationships through social profile data. But, putting the face of a user’s father next to a Father’s Day purchase reminder is overly intrusive. In fact, Google was taken to task this past Father’s Day for adding a small reminder to “call dad’ in Gmail. Even without social data, many users did not appreciate being reminded of deceased or estranged family members.

Use Data Behind the Scenes (Sometimes)

Product and content recommendations that are driven by social profile data are useful to the user, and not intrusive. There may be multiple data points that intersect to create a recommendation, which makes it incredibly difficult to show the user how the recommendation was derived anyway.

So, it’s best to leave that information to your backend systems to manage. There is no clear user benefit to showcasing which data points influenced how a recommendation was made, and since you should be testing multiple ways of making recommendations, the system will likely be different the next time the user interacts with the recommendation engine anyway.

Other ways to use social data behind the scenes include remembering the user’s login preferences for their return visit, and maintaining their connection state with various social networks for sharing content.

Social profile data represents marketers’ best opportunity to create and maintain personal relationships with users. The size of the opportunity for marketers is huge, which makes it an important area to explore now. Janrain has a number of specific recommendations for different types of websites on how to effectively use social profile data. Check out our recent white paper on this topic, and share how you have found success in the comments.

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About the author

Jamie Beckland

VP of Product

Jamie has been delivering custom web solutions for more than 10 years, and built his first social media community in 2004. Prior to Janrain, Jamie led the emerging media practice at White Horse, and has worked as a marketer and technologist with clients including Coca-Cola, Financial Times, Samsung, Wells Fargo, L’Occitane, The Brooking Institution, and many others. He frequently speaks about technology trends and writes for Mashable, Social Media Examiner, iMediaConnection, AdAge, and other publications.

View all posts by Jamie Beckland