Hyper-targeted marketing: Welcome info from “friends” or creepy come-ons?

I’ve blogged before about what I call “ultra-personal” marketing and what others call hyper-targeted: using personal information gathered either overtly from millions of social media site profiles or covertly from cookies that track your IP address and Web surfing activities in order to serve up super-relevant ads on Web pages. It’s a close cousin to contextual advertising, where search engines place ads on Web sites based on key terms in the content of page.

Whatever you call it, businesses need to decide whether to use ultra-personal marketing or not.

MySpace is certainly hoping marketers are willing to dig through the dirt their let-it-all-hang-out users dish on themselves.

MySpace’s own pitch for their HyperTargeting product says it all: “While demographics may give you an idea of what someone might be interested in, HyperTargeting tells you exactly what they are passionate about—dramatically improving the effectiveness of your media.” The page goes on to encourage marketers to “get granular” by using information culled from its users’ profiles.

But the backlash has begun.

Facebook re-jigged their Beacon marketing product post haste. Touted as a way for 7 million Facebook members to let their friends know what they are buying, it was first launched as an opt-out “feature.” After the MoveOn organization rallied a protest and Beacon customers like Overstock.com said they weren’t going to use it anymore until Facebook changed their model to ensure “privacy,” Facebook decided this week to make the “service” opt-in instead.

There’s an old security saw that comes to mind.

For privacy in the digital age, defense needs to be layered, requiring three things from those that come knocking for personal information: proof of who you are, proof of what you know, and something tangible that only the trusted possess.

For those who post the raw data of their lives on social networks, don’t use security software or use it poorly, aren’t disciplined about deleting cookies or other temporary files, or all of the above—they’ve opted-in, whether they tick privacy statement boxes or not.

So, Mr. Marketer: Do you risk alienating existing or potential customers and creating a backlash by tipping your hand about the ultra-personal poop you’ve already scooped? Do you hold back a bit to see what happens to others and risk losing a competitive edge by not diving into the sordid details soon enough, or do you jump in and hope you don’t mess yourself up?

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