As a marketer, social media represents a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have the opportunity to target your marketing more precisely than has ever been possible in the past. On the other, you have privacy concerns from consumers.

Customers demand personalized experiences, but they want you to create those experiences without accessing a lot of personal information, making the marketer’s job challenging. Fortunately, there are ways to personalize your marketing without violating privacy laws.

What might surprise you is that using alternate methods of personalization and targeting often results in a more engaged audience, even if that audience is smaller. 

Limitations Surrounding Personal Data

There are a variety of laws that have been passed in response to consumer concerns about privacy. It’s essential to understand each of these laws and how they impact your marketing efforts, especially if you’re using social media for eCommerce or marketing. 

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR is a law that was passed in the European Union (EU) in 2018. It affects any organizations that target or collect data related to people within the EU, no matter where those organizations are located.

There are seven protection and accountability principles within the law, all of which are outlined in Article 5.1-2:

  • Data must be processed in a lawful, fair and transparent manner.
  • Data must be collected in a specific, explicit and legitimate manner and processed in the same way.
  • Data must be collected in an adequate, relevant manner and limited to necessity.
  • Data collected must be kept accurate and up-to-date, with reasonable effort to erase or rectify inaccurate personal data immediately.
  • Data must be stored only for as long as is necessary.
  • Data must be processed with appropriate security, integrity and confidentiality.
  • The data controller must be able to demonstrate GDPR compliance.

When it comes to marketing, the most common lawful basis for collecting data is when the person gives specific, unambiguous consent for you to collect and process personal information by opting in. It’s important to note that those under 13 can only consent with parental permission.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

The CCPA applies to any organization that collects personal information from California residents when the organization has an annual revenue of $25 million or more. 

The CCPA defines six primary rights for California consumers:

  • The right to know about the personal information collected and how that information is used and shared
  • The right to delete personal information collected above them, with some exceptions
  • The right to opt out of the sale or sharing of personal information
  • The right to non-discrimination in exercising their rights under the CCPA
  • The right to correct inaccurate personal information
  • The right to limit the use and disclosure of sensitive personal information

Organizations covered by this law not only need to abide by the CCPA but they are also required to provide specific privacy notices to consumers.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law focused mainly on the healthcare industry and aimed at keeping protected patient health information (PHI) secure and private. According to the Medicare Learning Network, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, PHI includes:

  • “Common identifiers, such as name, address, birth date and SSN
  • The patient’s past, present or future physical or mental health condition
  • Health care [provided] to the patient
  • The past, present or future payment for health care [provided] to the patient.”

Obviously, this is more pertinent to doctors and health care providers, but it’s important to remember in internet marketing, especially that PHI is protected. You don’t want to violate HIPAA laws by using restricted PHI in a marketing campaign.

Marketing in an Era of Privacy

With all of the limitations on the use of personal information and the likelihood of other similar laws following close behind, the most effective marketing is privacy-first. 

How can you effectively use social media for lead generation without violating privacy laws or running into data limitations from mobile devices like Apple’s iOS 14 and more? There are two essential steps: first, get consent from consumers, and second, focus on the security of the data you collect.

Focus on Consent

The existing laws and limitations on devices share a common attribute: you can still collect personal information if the consumer allows you to. Getting consent for personalized data collection should be a top focus for today’s social media marketers.

How do you get consent? Put simply, you have to create gated marketing campaigns that people want to participate in. 

For years, marketers have created lead magnets that were interesting and informative enough that people were willing to give their email address, and often more information than that, in return for access. Major research reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers, LinkedIn, Gallup and more all require you to share personal information before you can download them. 

To create effective social media marketing in an era of privacy, you’ll want to do the same on social media. You might have a private group on social media where consumers can get key information about solving specific problems or comparing different solutions. Still, they have to opt into your marketing campaign to join. 

How do you know what information consumers are most interested in? Consider using voice-of-the-customer (VoC) research to identify the motivators that would cause ideal leads to share personal information. By getting information from your best customers, you’ll be able to connect with leads who are like them, helping you connect with those who most need what you have to offer. 

When a consumer opts into your marketing, not only can the laws not stop you from using personal data to create personalized experiences, but you’ll find that your leads are far more active and engaged with your organization, leading to higher conversion rates.

Protecting Data

The second part of effective social media marketing in today’s marketplace is carefully protecting the data you collect. No matter how much consumers love your brand or the information you share, they won’t maintain trust if there are data breaches.

A robust data privacy process includes protecting information at every stage of collection, storage and use. It includes limiting access to data, detecting leaks and breaches and managing compliance with data privacy laws and requirements.

As the world changes, so must the ways we protect the data we use in marketing. Rio Longacre, writing for FastCompany, suggests that marketers are adjusting to a “privacy-first” world with new strategies, including developing better customer data acquisition channels and future-proofing their organizations. Some of the solutions that Longacre suggests every marketer familiarize themself with to this end include:

  • Customer data platforms (CDP): this software combines data from multiple sources, such as social media, email and the company website and creates user profiles out of them. Other systems can then use these profiles, especially after they’ve been anonymized and pseudonymized. 
  • Data clean rooms: these solutions take aggregated customer data and return usable, pseudonymous user information. This protects privacy while encouraging collaboration, allowing marketers to run targeted analyses and build models without betraying consumer trust.
  • Cookie consent managers: more and more websites require user consent to collect and store data via cookies. These solutions support said efforts via pop-ups and buttons.

When you have consent from consumers to collect their data and protect that data carefully, you’ll not only have effective social media marketing, but you’ll also build trust that will help those consumers choose to buy your products and services.

Balancing Data Privacy and Effective Marketing

Many marketers have looked at laws like GDPR and CCPA as blows that make marketing less effective, but that’s actually not the case. 

Instead, look at the opportunity to create engaging marketing opportunities that consumers want to opt into as a chance to stand out in the marketplace. Your marketing will be better because it will be crafted to appeal to your ideal leads, and leads that opt into your marketing will be more engaged and likely to buy.

As such, you’ll want to start looking at new ways to do things. This might include diversifying your media mixes and vastly expanding your omnichannel marketing. In fact, a report by Gartner shows that “almost half of organizations that manage 11 or more marketing channels have increased their first-party customer data collection, compared with just over a quarter of those with 10 or fewer channels.”

Another solution might include providing value in exchange for a customer’s first-party data. How many customers would be willing to share personal information in return for, say, digital currency or a discount code? An even cheaper option can be seen with online streaming services. When you first sign in, you are asked questions about your viewing preferences, and because you know the algorithm needs this information to make personalized recommendations, most people provide this information.

So, while it’s not necessarily going to be easy, we’re all in for changes galore — and they might actually benefit us! In other words, by making a few privacy-focused changes, your social media marketing will be higher quality and more likely to convert. That’s a big win!

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By Margaret Blank

At the moment I am an expert-analyst in the field of search engine optimization, leading several projects and consulting on website optimization and promotion, I am actively involved in various thematic seminars and conferences.

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