March 26, 2012, 10:00 AM

There’s a fine line between targeting and stalking

An IRCE speaker will discuss how to leverage Facebook data without appearing unseemly.

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There’s a wealth of information that consumers share on Facebook—everything from their birthdays to their interests to the music they’re listening to. That information can prove extremely valuable to marketers who can use it to target ads and present consumers with valuable information.

But advertisers have to be careful to walk the fine line between using that data to present shoppers with relevant content and making those consumers feel like marketers know too much about them, say John Jackson, CEO and founder of DecisionStep, which Buy.com acquired in 2010.

For instance, it’s probably not a surprise to most consumers that marketers can access their birthdays, as well as the birthdays of their friends. “But it might be weirder to say, your friend’s birthday is next month and based on what they, and their friends Like, here are some things you might want to get them,” he says. “You can keep walking down that line of presenting information to them based on what you know and can infer about them, but the more you do, the more they may not like what they’re seeing. I’m not sure the world has figured out where the acceptable line to draw is.”

Because a firm line has yet to be drawn, retailers should err on the side of caution because there can be unintended consequences even when a marketer uses seemingly innocuous data, says Jackson. For instance, if a site shows a consumer what products his friends have bought, while also showing that only one of his friends has shopped on the site, it could reveal an embarrassing purchase that his friend made. “At this stage of the game it is best to put yourself in the customer’s position,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘If I got presented this information would I be comfortable with that?’” In that case, it might be better to present shoppers with a range of similar products to the shopper and his friend’s interests and purchases, he says.

Jackson will discuss how Buy.com is connecting with Facebook, how consumers use the Facebook functionality, what it takes from a technology and management perspective to be so closely tied to Facebook, at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in a session entitled “Social shoppers share their secrets: How e-retailers spin that knowledge into gold.”

Internet Retailer’s editors asked Jackson to speak because he of his work developing Buy.com’s ShopTogether social shopping application that enables shoppers to engage with fellow consumers via e-mail, an on-site instant messaging system, Facebook Connect, Twitter and other social networks. Using the tool, consumers can browse products together and redirect friends, with their permission, to product pages. With DecisionStep part of Buy.com and its Tokyo-based parent company Rakuten, he is responsible for expanding social commerce initiatives both domestically and internationally.

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