Millennial Think Tank: The Impact of Technology on Privacy. A Millennial Perspective

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When we decided to put the topic of Privacy on last week’s agenda, both Hessie Jones and I thought that our panel would be deeply concerned, possibly even afraid of how much of their personal privacy was exposed online. What we discovered is  that our panel is certainly concerned, but definitely far more sophisticated in how they manage their online life to keep it as private as possible; their behavior is something that will be of particular interest to marketers and social networks.

To frame the discussion we started with these points, taken from an infographic from the Rad CampaignLincoln Park Strategies, and Craigconnects:

  • 55% of Americans think too much personal information about them is online.
  • 57% have little or no trust in social sites (interestingly Millennials have the most trust)
  • 70% of Americans believe social networks are collecting and selling their data (again, Millenials are the most trusting)

Before we dive in, here are our panelists from last week, with the entire broadcast embedded below:

  • Joe Cardillo,  an older Millennial, Content and Analytics specialist.
  • Judy McCloskey, an older Millennial, actor, director at 2nd City, and social media Community Manager.
  • Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research
  • Tiffany Daniels, an older Millennial working in Government & Community Relations
  • Laura Petrolino, an older Milleniall and Client Services Director at Arment Dietrich

Our first question was a direct one:

How concerned are you about your personal privacy online?

Joe expressed his concern about the massive amount of data being collected and said he pays very close attention to it. He thinks a lot about what he puts out there himself, and what that might do in aggregate. He considers himself hyper aware of what happens to data. When I asked Joe what preventative measures he takes to ensure as much privacy as possible, he mentioned browsers that are non trackable, and the Tor Project. 3 – 5 times a year he checks his Google profile and what’s being collected about him.

Samantha told us about Fippa, the Canadian Freedom of Privacy and Information Act. In Canada it appears that citizens aren’t as outraged as Americans are, although the collection of data is ongoing. Personally, because of the sensitivity of her various jobs, she’s always been acutely aware of what personal information is out there about her. She described herself as ‘constantly vigilant.’ At 14 she was working in a non profit and uses the ‘if my 84 year old grandmother wouldn’t approve, don’t post it’ philosophy for anything she personally puts out there.

Have any of you had friends or personally experienced the repercussions of too much exposure on social media?

Tiffany worked as an RA in college when Facebook took off on her campus, and she tutored the Football and Basketball players. She watched people lose scholarships and even job opportunities because businesses and recruiters had picked up on Facebook. A friend competing for an internship with someone else shared the online shenanigans of her competitor with a recruiter to win the job. Every panelist had experiences like this, and understand fully the repercussions of their online actions. This generation has definitely experienced the first wave of learning about how we can damage ourselves with our social network behavior, and is wise to that.

Hessie questioned whether any of our panelists had an employer ask to see their Facebook Page and Judy had experienced exactly that. When she applied for a social media job they asked for her blog url and social media profiles. She intentionally did not submit her Facebook Page because, for her, that is her personal life and had nothing to do with the marketing job she was a candidate for. She uses it for friends and family only, and when told that the company was taken aback. When she explained that she needed a quadrant of personal, non marketing quiet space within social media, and that was Facebook for her; the company found it interesting but never called back.

Laura brought up the point that, at the end of the day, its about personal responsibility for what you put out there. She mentioned that, to a brand, there is no separation between your ‘personal life’ online and your public persona. She talked about the personal choice we make to participate, and of how we present ourselves; that you have to be able to live your online life in a way that you can ‘defend’ it or live with years from now when you look back on it.

Millennial Think Tank

Who is not opting into the Facebook Messenger App?

With the hullabaloo flying around social media about the intrusiveness of the now forced Facebook Messenger (IF you want to use FB Message), I asked who was not going to use it.

There was a bit of confusion among the panel, not understanding that Facebook was now forcing you to use Messenger if you wanted to do messages within Facebook, but not for Joe, who uses NO messaging via social through his phone – only desk top.

Tiffany was the only other panelist not opting in; the rest are just accepting that this is the way it will be and using the app.

How much are you willing to give up for a good customer experience?

Judy loves Amazon and the customer experience it provides, but she also points out that she chooses to shop there, and chose to have an account on there. The site’s data collection is part of the trade off, and she goes there to purchase. With Facebook she agrees that she’s chosen to have an account, but the random nature of what shows up in her feed, like an ad for a  dentist she does not need, is not ok. Now, within a fashion social network where she’s targeted with vintage dress patterns and things that she likes, it feels much more natural. Facebook’s ‘out of right field’ is what is so offensive.

Laura chimed in that ‘smart targeted marketing’ works well; when it’s done poorly and it interrupts your user experience it feels intrusive, instead of helpful. Joe talked about how most companies can’t even handle small data, let alone big, and that is where the ‘throwing everything at the wall’ is not working.

Tiffany pointed out that she goes to Amazon TO SHOP, so, when they suggest other things to buy she’s ok with it, because she went with the intent to buy. She doesn’t go to Facebook looking for to buy, or date, or anything. When I asked “so you don’t give the social networks a pass at all because they’re free?” the answer was something every network needs to hear:

No, I understand it, I just don’t click on anything, so they’re wasting their time with me.

Tiffany, and others, said that if an ad is of interest to them they will get out of the social network and go to the website directly, but never directly from the social network ad. What a nightmare for Facebook to sell on huh? Can you hear the sales meeting where they tell their advertisers that the ads are working, just outside of the network? And all of our panelists agreed and were consciously choosing this route, as Laura called it, her ‘stand against the man.’  There is a bit of Millennial rebellion going on, a ‘you can’t tell me what to do.’

It is a conscious decision to ‘mess with the algorithm.’

Are we seeing the Rise of a Smarter Social Consumer?

Frankly, hearing the above blew me away… not that our panelists didn’t click on FB ads, but that they knowingly, consciously chose it in part to avoid the data collection and to mess with the algorithm. So how is a brand supposed to reach you via social media? When I asked the panel pointedly: what about a great, socially responsible, smaller company – the kind of company Millennials say they want to buy from – how are they supposed to reach you if they can’t do it via social?

Laura answered – the ads work, because I will still go and find them via Google. And, if the brand is consistent and I still like them, I’ll go back to their Facebook page and like them.

What this all meant to me is that content is more key than even I thought before… that brand had BETTER tell its story, and tell it well when they get that one chance to make the consumer believe in them.

Another important point for brands: do not underestimate the power of social circles and word of mouth. Samantha, who is known amongst her friends as a research Queen, said that they all share their research and information about brands. She named One Tree and Wicked Clothes as companies who had changed policies or invested in initiatives, so she and her friends made a point of purchasing from them, and liking them on social networks.

Joe talked at length about learning that a brand had sold his information; over time, if he doesn’t trust them he will punish them. Laura equated it to be a smart, responsible person. You wouldn’t walk down a dark street alone in the middle of the night; you make choices about what you will participate in and you must be aware.

Forced Opt in Sends off a Red Alert

Websites are trusted less than social networks, and our panel agreed that any opt in site is an automatic no go.

Personal Health Records Must Remain Private

Laura was quite clear that no one’s health records, even prominent business people, should be public in anyway. Tiffany pointed out that medical records will tie into mental health records, which can impact not only your ability to get a job, but even housing.

The summation?

These Millennials are a lot more sophisticated than even I thought about their online behavior.  There is a lot of concern about privacy, and an understanding that there is give and take when dealing with a brand. There is definitely individual activism among our panel with the way they behave online, and their friends who are not marketers do the same thing. The non-tech savvy people may be even more cynical than our marketers.

We learned that our Millennials want brands to give them choices  about how much and what type of contact they’ll have with the brand. We learned that content is key: if they get to your site, blog, social page and don’t find something meaningful, they’re gone…. maybe forever.

At the end of the day, their behavior reflects both their concern and awareness of what their online behavior means, as well as an acceptance. Tiffany summed it up with:

We saw it start. We saw it blow up. Now it is a part of life. So, unless you’re willing to move off the grid, you have to accept it.


photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

One thought on “Millennial Think Tank: The Impact of Technology on Privacy. A Millennial Perspective

  1. AnnetteStahlMaddox says:

    For scientific research on this particular subject, read Prof. Dr. Bernd Stahl of the University of Leicester, UK.

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