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Save the Galaxy with Social Media

If Darth Vader could have used social media as a weapon, he certainly would have (as discussed in our last week’s blog post Conquering the Galaxy on Social Media Day). Everyone’s data up for grabs, being able to silently influence choices - social media is every supervillain’s playground. But the man wasn’t a supervillain, he was an evil hero. Such heroes use evil to beget good, and see power in unpopular methods to change things for the better. They can find the grey areas, and can transform weapons into instruments of peace. Here’s how you can turn social media into something that makes the galaxy a happier place.

Use of data without consent is one of people’s worst fears when companies make use of social media. Privacy concerns led to Facebook losing $119 billion in market capitalisation after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Yet, you can’t and shouldn’t do away with consumer data either. According to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Thomas Ramge, data is increasingly becoming a new form of capital, and will most likely create a whole different kind of economy. In their book titled Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data, they propose that with all the access to information people have today, the problem is not finding things to buy or even product prices. The problem is finding what exactly they’re looking for. Data thus will become the new currency. It already is, as we’re seeing with the rise of giants like Amazon, Spotify, and AirBnb that operate on customer preferences and reviews. It’s important that you start using data to guide people through all that information and share the power that such knowledge has. A happier galaxy would be one where data is not just being used by a few global giants. It’s one with a number of different firms that understand the power of data, ensure its security, and share it with their customers.

Appointing up a chief data officer and a chief privacy officer is the first way to go about it. With an understanding of business, data technology and AI, they should know what kind of data is being collected from social media and decide how to use it. It’s important to make sure you’re transparent with your approach to data. Let people know you respect their data and allow for “increased public scrutiny on company collection”, as Thomas Noyes says in his article about adapting marketing to better data usage. Research shows that consumers have significant concerns about who handles their personal information - a Deloitte survey conducted in 2014 found that 41% of its respondents would avoid buying from consumer product companies that didn’t appear to protect their data. Privacy concerns have only increased since then, with the European Union passing its General Data Protection Regulation in 2018. With the GDPR in place, you can’t apply algorithms to personal data without people’s consent. They also have the right to access, correct and erase their information that corporates hold. If companies around the world took the lead on taking up these policy changes themselves, it would only lead to engagement with happy netizens. Meanwhile, you could also take up contextual advertising, like the kind on Quora, to send in the kind of information people would want to see. Contextual advertisements are displayed based on the content that they’re looking through in real-time. For example, a question about neighbourhoods in Mumbai might have an ad about brokerage options or local restaurants. Privacy concerns also apply in-house - how secure is your own data? Setting up policies that ensure third parties and vendors don’t abuse your data is as important as respecting people’s privacy.

Once you have consent to use people’s data from social media, it’s important that you predict wisely. This is the trouble with interpreting past purchases incorrectly and relying on data brokers too much. Kalev Lataru, a senior fellow at Washington University in his 30s writes of how he received an email from an ageing organisation for the aged that mistook him to be retired and in his 60s. He came to find out that they’d gotten his name from a mailer list of aged people they bought from a small data mining/marketing company. This is just one of the many mistakes that occur with data collection, and can prove costly. To understand people’s choices better, you could look to artificial intelligence and its deep learning capabilities, which uses neural networks similar to those of the human brain to solve problems faster than people can. Machine learning methods used by natural language processing APIs, for example, also help predict the demographic of customers based on the words they use on their posts.

Just as you need to build better insights from the data collected, you also need insight into how and why people work. In other words, look at what they've come looking for from your page. Shape content such that people know where to go without wasting time. JetBlue, an American airline, uses different Twitter handles for different purposes. There is @JetBlueAirways that directs passengers through different services, @JetBlueCheeps that offers discounts, and @HelloJetBlue that provides company information to employees and the like. So it boils down to smoother functioning, and really listening to and being aware of what people need.

This is essential when catering to a crowdculture - knowing what kind of content different subcultures would like to see and letting the subculture speak for itself. Helping give voice to the people you represent is key in social media. Patagonia, an American outdoor clothing brand famed for its environmental activism, uses Twitter to share articles about issues like global warming and to give shoutouts to other sustainable brands. They also use Instagram to their advantage, using a collection of beautiful videos and photographs that tell stories about the environment and to communicate brand ethos. Closer to home, Okhai, an artisan-led apparel brand based in Gujarat, makes it clear that its artisans are the face of the brand. Supporting women in the drought-ridden region of Okhamandal, Okhai’s posts often feature its artisans in photographs that convey a sense of empowerment and sisterhood. This ties in with the brand’s tagline, ‘working women for working women’ as they help the creator and the consumer meet.

The creator and the consumer - that’s what social media brings together. To make the galaxy a happier place, social media needs to become a space where the creator of content delights the people who require it, and vice versa. Using data respectfully and securely, getting more accurate with the information derived, and giving a place for the people represented - that’s how we can save the galaxy.

(You see, it was never you vs them in the first place. It was us.)



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