By Bharat Bambawale


We tumbled into love with Social Tech at different times since 2004. With different brands and to different degrees, but tumble we did. Everyone had multiple channels to air their news and views and the sense of significance this gave us was intoxicating. Users and usage skyrocketed. Were Facebook a nation, today its population would be half again as large as India; Twitter is the size of Europe.

Fifteen years on, we’re in a sober moment of self-realization. Social Tech – the charming and entertaining companion who makes us feel so good and whom we embrace throwing caution to the wind – has revealed a sinister side.

Here are 5 promises Social Tech brands made, whether explicitly or implicitly:

1. Social Tech is free

2. Personal data is protected

3. You get to choose the messages you receive

4. We do not limit or control your access

5. We seek your consent for anything to do with you

As we’ve come to discover, all 5 of those promises are broken. Social Tech is not free: we pay by receiving commercial messages. Social Tech brands themselves offer our data to other brands. We do not always choose the content we are served. Some platforms limit how many can see our posts. Data is not well protected, it can be hacked. Our consent is not asked at every stage of data sharing. And, on a daily basis, largely unbeknownst to us, masses of information about us is being mined.

In pretty much every relationship, not every promise made is kept. We largely understand and excuse this. But deliberate deception is harder to forgive. Unsurprisingly, we feel bruised, used and abused.

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What can Social Tech brands do to repair the damage?

Trust is an outcome of four virtues – honesty, transparency, reliability and respect. To re-earn our trust, Social Tech will have to demonstrate these four virtues through an 8-step program:

1. Apologise for what has happened

2. Accept responsibility

3. Listen to criticism from all quarters

4. Announce changes, make them and let everyone see they have been made

5. Communicate often, clearly and without subterfuge.

6. Raise the bar. Elevate the user experience. Bring a new thrill to the contact.

7. Accept losses and build again

8. Give the relationship time to heal. The repair will not take place overnight.

Most Social Tech brands are already on this program. They must keep at it. That Social Tech comes at the cost of receiving commercial messages is now clear. They should make it even more unambiguous, as some already do. Make it clear our data will be shared with other brands; take our consent before doing so. Tell us when we are being served paid content – not in a hidden corner or tiny font, but clearly where we won’t miss it. Let us agree to receiving paid content: we like being marketed to, but only when we say yes. Protect our data by plugging those holes through which the hacker gremlins creep in. Ask for our consent in an easy to understand and respond to manner – at every stage of data sharing. Stop collecting information about us on the sly; tell us you are doing it and take our consent.

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Truth be told, most of us want to forgive Social Tech brands. We enjoy them too much to live without them. What we’re asking for is a more honest, transparent and respectful relationship. If Social Tech brands give us that, trust will return… and who knows, love might spark anew?

The author is the founder of Bharat Bambawale & Associates, a brand strategy consultancy. Views expressed are personal.





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