In the late 1990s, banner ads were hit-or-miss. Pets.com would blast ads with no idea whether the viewer owned a pet. Drugstore.com threw up ads to people who didnít yet trust the Internet.
For the most part, those companies went out of business. The ads they carried were replaced by products with high-percentage consumer demand and high markup -- security software, identity theft protection, Internet colleges, online backup, things like that.
Over the past few years, the ads became relevant. Startlingly relevant. I now see ads for hotels as I plan a vacation; for credit cards when I am shopping for credit cards; for advice about my tiny little niche of technology risk-management all the time.
The startling thing is that these ads all appear on different sites. I go to Marriott.com once, and suddenly Inc. or BusinessWeek or you-name-it is serving up ads for Marriott.
In order to connect, these companies have to create a unique ID for me; it could be as simple as email address. Any site I sign into will collect that email address, and suddenly anyone can report about me to a big ad network in the sky.
Thatís one system; Facebook is certainly another. Suddenly, everything about us is available to advertisers -- or any other third party with skin in the game. This can have serious implications for IT over the next few years, implications that someone in marketing, eager to increase brand recognition, might not consider. Here are a few questions to ask when the ideas come knocking on the door of your business.
Questions and considerations
- Should we expand our Facebook presence? For years, building and maintaining the website has been the role of IT, but new, virtual sites like Facebook fan pages and social media are increasingly the role of marketing. Thatís OK, as long as the business understands the consequences and has a fine line of demarcation between the two. Along those same lines...
- Should we offer a Like/Tweet button? What happens when the service we are linking to is down? What does this button tell Facebook about our company and our customers? Most importantly: If the customer links to a specific URL, what if that URL changes in our content management system? That is a not-so-great click-through experience. How do we prevent that from happening?
- Shall we participate in ad networks? Casinos are well known masters of customer relationship segmentation strategies that work like this: Offer $5 coupons to every loyal customer, and, if the customer loses more than $25, well, keep sending him coupons. Ad networks can have a similar effect. The IT concerns here are integration, privacy, and the ability to opt-out. If the relationship becomes damaging to your brand, we need to know how to opt-out in advance and to ensure any the customer data the network holds onto will be at least not harmful.
- What can we do with big-data? I will leave this discussion to another time, but let me say this: Most third-party agreements really give company data to the third-party. They donít provide the data to us. This is a double-lose. Customers lose privacy, and the company doesnít get any new analysis capability.
Coming to the table
The important thing in these conversations is to stay focused on customers and the business impact and schedule. Unless your customer is another IT department, no one is going to care if the third-party is known to use SHA-1 non-salted encryption for its passwords.
They will care if you can explain how SHA-1 encryption can lead to a password leak, or what the consequences of this type of information going to other partners could be, or what IT can do with the data it already has.
The extended IT infrastructure of tomorrow is going to be outside our datacenter and on the greater web. We probably wonít get to decide if our company should participate in it -- but, if we play our cards right, we might just be able to be part of the conversation.
Let us strive to choose our words carefully and to do well.
— Matt Heusser is principal consultant of Excelon Development.