Privacy Matters: Giving People The Right to Connect Freely and in Safe and Trusted Spaces



Marketers have a unique opportunity to innovate for a more permission-based, personalized future where audiences can connect naturally and safely online.


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Our industry faces a fundamental reorientation around notions of trust and privacy. Users desire the freedom to connect freely in safe and trusted spaces and that their information won’t live permanently online. In an era of information overload, they’re plagued with the questions of who is sharing my information and how is it being used? Will it be targeted to deliver me an ad I don’t want to see?

With this shift, marketers have the opportunity to innovate and build business opportunities including creating platforms for private sharing. Privacy and safety are much more than protective measures. If people know that their privacy is a priority beyond a multi-page policy, they’ll be much more inclined to connect authentically.

Explore Social Media Week’s 2020 Global Theme: HUMAN.X

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Let’s take a look at a few key themes and trends paving the way for a more permission-based, personalized future:

Group culture

Small groups are by far the fastest-growing areas of online communication. Users increasingly want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room. Groups are a means of encountering new ideas and people within platforms that form around the causes they are passionate about. They are a source for community-building.

For businesses, a few key benefits to a Facebook group, for instance, would include an added personal touch where users feel like they’re interacting with a human as opposed to a business. Marketers can also more easily drive a call-to-action or receive immediate feedback from their audience.

The Reddit community is a good example of this. The platform’s admins have and continue to learn invaluable insights from the platform’s hubs for genuine conversation, where vulnerability powers remarkable experiences. Specifically, unique subreddits for civil discourse like r/ChangeMyView or honest self-reflection like r/AmITheAsshole have informed Reddit’s transparent approach to communicating with its own users – and in turn – become the core playbook for Reddit’s Brand Strategy team.

Ephemeral stories

In today’s digital landscape, people are more cautious about having a permanent record of what they’ve shared. Enter the rising popularity of ephemeral stories.

The key elements of ephemeral marketing include authenticity, informality, and spontaneity, Audiences favor this type of content as it fosters a greater sense of excitement, trust, and loyalty. To execute this successfully, however, involves an astute understanding of your brand and what exactly you hope to achieve.

A couple of brands that do this particularly well include Sephora and NASA.

Sephora goes beyond advertising makeup products in its strategy by tapping into Instagram Stories to show shoppers how products work and look on actual people. The short videos also take the opportunity to offer additional product details than can be found on the website, as well as tips and reviews.

In the same vein of giving followers an educational “behind the scenes” look, NASA’s Stories often take viewers on tours of space labs across a mix of photos and video allowing for a more interactive experience. The majority of images are themed, employing consistent visual elements that create unity and clarity. This is important as different Stories from different brands play right after each other in the app.

Private messaging

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services. This is due to the overwhelming preference of social media users to interact one-on-one or with just a few friends. In addition, they want the confidence that they have clear control over who can communicate with them and who has access to what they share. Simple, intimate ways to engage will continue to dominate our industry’s services and products around these ideas.

Messaging apps, for example, have outgrown social networks as the connective tools of choice and paved the way for brands to promote more consistent, private sharing.

As marketers, we have the unique ability to drive top-of-mind awareness and participate in conversations we were never able to before. We must begin to rethink relationship marketing in a transitional environment where users are favoring experiences over products.


As technology evolves, the consequences of ignorance about privacy policies have become increasingly severe. At the same time, younger generations aren’t guarding their online privacy with as much focus as older generations. They’re likely to put more of their lives online and won’t pay as much attention to the policies that dictate what happens to that information. That isn’t to say they don’t care.

In fact, a study across the United States and the United Kingdom suggested that 70 percent of Millennials believe online privacy will be further compromised in the coming years.

As an industry, we have an important responsibility to acknowledge this trend. In support of this, platforms should state make it easy for users to change the settings so that they are conscious of and comfortable with the information that they are sharing and feel in control.

This is reflected in recent findings including a joint study by IBM and the National Retail Foundation, which found that a full “55 percent [of Zers] want to decide what information they share with brands, [while] 54 percent want to control how brands contact them.”

There is also the urgency to more concretely define brand safety in the midst of growing cases of fake news and extremist content. We’ve seen this discussion brought into the limelight through a number of recent scandals. In turn, 80 percent of people in the US now claim they would reduce or stop buying a product if advertised next to extreme or dangerous content online.

Data portability

Under GDPR, the right to data portability entitles an individual to receive a copy of their personal data; and/or have their data transmitted from one controller to another controller.

For example, if Facebook knows about a given user’s interests and the content they shared (status and photos), then data portability would allow that user to take their data with them should they decide to delete Facebook.

Given brands fund the platforms, do those with the influence of ad budgets have a responsibility to push for this generally accepted privacy measure on behalf of their audiences?

Privacy has extended beyond the topic of risk management. It is vital to a company’s reputation and a central component of brand building and strategy. Paired with an obligation towards a profound respect for people’s time and attention and an agenda that fosters deeper connection with our audiences through understanding and shared experiences, we, as an industry, can begin to introduce a more human element to marketing.

Learn more about Privacy Matters, Empathy Economics, and The Attention Revolution as part of our 2020 global theme: HUMAN.X and help us establish a human-first, experience-driven approach to digital marketing. Read the official announcement here and secure your early-bird discount today to save 10% on your full-conference pass to #SMWNYC (May 5-7, 2020).

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