The Right to be left alone: Flipping the social media paradigm

 Social media is not a fad.  It’s here to stay.  But the current incarnation is reaching a saturation point.  Almost everyone who is interested in being connected to a social platform has done so to whatever degree they want.  What is creating a barrier to adoption is the issue of privacy.

 Let’s face it.  People are overwhelmed by the amount of data coming at them now.  They are finding subjective and subconscious ways of filtering it out either by ignoring the information or by actively removing themselves from the conversation (e.g. closing a Facebook account).  This activity, while nascent at present, is the golden-goose kiler for social media.  If people actually start walking away in droves, that’s going to be a problem for a lot of companies.  

 Now I’ve made it clear that I believe privacy is not really an issue.  It’s something anyone can control if they wish, but the fact is, most people want to make sure everyone else is taking care of their privacy for them.  Social media mavens like Mark Zuckerberg thinks those people need to get over themselves and just deal with it (and I agree with him on that, too). However, just because some billionaire thinks you should do something doesn’t mean you are going to.

 That last fact opens up an opportunity for a different kind of social media platform and location-based technology can make that happen.

 What is really at issue is not the protection of personal information but what the Supreme Court calls, the right to be left alone.  The right, established in 1928 is what keeps the government from doing wiretaps without authority and keeps organizations from selling sensitive information to others without your approval.  Social media violates this right on a regular basis.  That is what has really got a lot of people up in arms.

 At the same time, however, people want to be connected.  The hectic activity of our lives, the barrage of media messages, and our mobile lifestyle keeps many people from actually developing real relationships.  Social media has helped hat to some degree by fostering virtual relationships and, often, providing a new means to connect with people that mean something to you.  Unfortunately, it also allows people to contact you who you don’t want to be connected with.  That’s the problem people have with Facebook groups now.  It is possible, unless you go in and set your security features properly, for anyone to force you into a social group that you don’t want to be part of and start getting information you do not want.  That is the Achilles heel of social media: it forces you to be involved.

 As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve run across some companies that are working on ways to turn that paradigm upside down.  The goal is to allow users to determine the size and reach of their social networks.  If they want just a few people in their circle and not share any information outside of that circle, that’s possible.  People can’t ask to join but can be invited to join.  DeHood is one of those companies.

 (Disclaimer: I am consulting to DeHood on community relations)

 Dehood has reached out to a few Redwood City communities of late and is asking them, specifically, “what would you like to see in in a social group.”  At present, they are working on developing a virtual neighborhood watch project for two neighborhoods that are plagued by increasing gang violence.  They are also talking to a preschool that wants to “gate” their little community around the families attending the school.  finally, they are talking to a church about creating a package for their youth group.  In every case, these groups are closed and require some sort of vetting.  At the same time they are being opened to police and fire organizations and government groups for the purposes of public safety.

 Ning has been doing this to a certain degree, but the problem with Ning is you have to be technically proficient to be able to build and manage a private Ning site.  Other social platforms can also be used for these purposes, but again you have to be savvy enough to navigate around the default settings.  DeHood is setting all defaults at private, even to the point of limiting profiles to name, user name, email address and gender.

 So how will they make this profitable?  Isn’t the whole point of social media to capture as much private information as possible from the buying public?  Actually, no.  You can do that and that is exactly where we are today, and why many people are backing off.  The real purpose of social media is to benefit society; to build trust; to find peace of mind in an increasingly dangerous world.  Because when you have that, you have a growing and sustainable economy.

 What we are seeing happen is social media for the introverted; the people that think stuff through; the people who choose not to comment and check-in on everything everywhere; the people who have not yet bought in fully to the belief the social media is the coolest thing ever.  Because these are people that stay loyal to brands.  They are not easily convinced and not easily dissuaded.  They just keep buying your stuff and they become the most important beings in the social world:  Trust agents.

 That’s where the money is and companies like DeHood are on the first wave.