Friday, February 28, 2014

Digital Footprints - stealing your identity or saving you money?

Do online security settings actually help your privacy – at what cost to you?

 A person’s digital footprint is developed and grown exponentially as we turn to digital means for commerce, communication, entertainment.  Digital footprints as noted by Wikipedia are typically classified as active and passive. Active footprints are created where we have an account. A passive footprint is when your browser or device is remembered, without explicit direction from you.   As consumers, we should control what is recorded about us whether active or passive. However, will this actually help or hinder what we want to accomplish online.
The seemingly small changes in our practices are being capitalized on by marketers using digital media trackers and tools for analysis.  Eventually we hear on the news (if you still watch broadcast tv) or read on your favorite news site that your privacy may be at risk with the social media app update.  Just as the print media and propaganda of old, it is meant to elicit a reaction.  So hordes of people rush to their various accounts and do their best to lock down their private information.  We change settings, opt-out of offers, reduce our risk – or so we think.   Tracking our activity online has been around as long as the World Wide Web has been around. Almost all electronic devices have logs; the difference now is companies are finding ways to make those logs of our seemingly random activities.  Whether we are trying to see the weather, buying diapers or emailing our grandmother – that information is useful to someone.  For me, the scary part is someone is willing to pay for that information.  But what is the actual risk?  If we are shopping online for diapers is it a bad thing that the site search engine we used to find Pampers keeps a record of that.  When we look at product reviews on Amazon, do we care that diapers show up 2 weeks later as a suggested product perhaps because the cost has actually dropped?

Companies want to sell you something be it goods or services, and we go to companies because we want something. Yet, we consider information gathering online as being victimized by those companies.  The EU has said that some of this type of tracking is indeed wrong and forcing companies to put a notice to all website visitors[i] – we want to know who you are and want to track your activities.  When you visit your regular gas station, the market closest to your home or favorite restaurant you surely notice patterns of employees and likely have favorite servers or checkers who in turn get to know you and how you like to do business with them.  So why do people worry that the personalization you get from your local service providers is trying to be mimicked by your circle of online providers[ii]?  The issue seems to be in the sharing. If my favorite server at my neighborhood cafe knows how I like my eggs and what beverage I’m likely to order, that server isn't going to tell the gas station attendant.  But online, we can look up a new car and ads for that brand or perhaps even that exact car down to the color we spent the most time looking at may show up in banner ads on several different sites we visit afterwards.  Is it a detriment that the web can get to know us quicker, maybe better, than the people we interact with?  We want privacy, but we are also consumers and most of us have limited means.  Do we want to hunt for the best price by driving to multiple stores in a car or on public transit - or have a company offer up their best price while we do other random things online and have that shipped to us for free within 2 days? 
In reality, we are in control of our data.  For those paranoid about truly personal information being gleaned to allow hacks into their various accounts for devious purposes, no amount of protection seems enough.  If you don’t want to register your full name, DOB, mother’s maiden name with a  company – then don’t.  Could this limit your access to some online resources, absolutely.  It is not any sites fault that you posted you were on vacation, hints to your passwords or answers to common security questions on social media[i]. Computers can only regurgitate the inputs we give them.  Otherwise, this posting would have written itself and been better.  In the meantime, I’ll allow Ikea to remember the size of light bulb I needed. I may not tip the tracking cookie, but they’ll likely keep my business – and loyalty is all any company really wants from us.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Search Ads or Display Ads

Let’s say you are a marketing analyst and your director comes over to your desk and says, “We were just approved to increase our budget for online advertising campaigns.  I need to know, should we spend the majority of the budget on search ads or display ads?  Prepare a memo with your analysis and recommendation by Friday morning.” 

How would you respond?


Search ads are used to instantly connect a business with customers.[1]  They are also known as paid search ads or sponsored links on a web page, based on the search terms entered in a search engine.  Search ads can be extremely effective by dropping your product/service on a customer’s lap who is ready to purchase.

Display ads appear as banners on the top or sides of web pages.  They are often used to remind customers of previous searches or page views to nudge them to visit their site and lead to conversion.  In the Tech Crunch page to the right, the online advertisers knew that I had been browsing the Sony Flip laptops at Best Buy’s website.  Also, they knew I had recently purchased a new car and had shopped around for insurance rates.

Recent Findings

In an article published by the Harvest Business School, Pavel Kireyev, Koen Pauwels, and Sunil Gupta explained that many firms justify higher online marketing spend by analyzing metrics such as click-through rate (CTR) and cost per acquisition (CPA).  However, they explain that standard online metrics are “plagued with attribution problems and do not account for dynamics.”[2]  Attribution problems occur because, based on limitations, we which ad really leads to conversion – search or display ads.[3]

“When you look at most consumers’ behavior, they do a search on Google when they are ready to make a decision,” says Gupta. “So search ads get all the credit for the sale. But search ads are at the bottom of the [purchase] funnel; display ads are at a higher level. Everybody in the industry intuitively believes that display ads drive people down the funnel, so they should get some credit—but they don’t.”[4]


Based on their research, they concluded that display ad exposure not only increases search conversion, but also increases search clicks, increasing the overall search advertising costs.  Their study of a large commercial bank found that for “each $1 invested in display and search leads to a return of $1.24 for display and $1.75 for search ads, which contrasts sharply with the estimated and returns based on standard metrics.”[5] 

Other Options

While internet users today are being bombarded with more and more banner adds, there are other tools being used to lead to conversion.  Mike Volpe, chief marketing officer at HubSpot, says the level of targeting and personalization that can be done on social media sites is where much of the action can be found. For instance, Facebook offers “Sponsored Stories” and Twitter has “Promoted Tweets” integrated into a site’s content.  Also, sponsored tweets from celebrities can be highly effective and provide another outlet to reach target audiences.  However, the social-video advertising could be the fastest growing ad medium in history, reaching 5.6 billion ads watched in 2011, according to Brian Shin of Visible Measures.[6]


When little information is available, the short answer to the manager probably would be to increase search over display ads.  However, the long answer would include outlining your overall business objective, performing a baseline analysis with A/B testing, a review of the firm’s key performance indicators (KPIs), and a study on the attribution and dynamics of search and display ads.  The firm will be more successful if it is continually monitoring, analyzing, and acting on the lead information gathered from these tests.  In the end, the best answer may be allocating more advertising spend on other tools.

Other Resources:


Grading Your Data: Developing and Applying a Data Classification Policy

Without well defined policies, organizations tend to treat all data as if it were of the highest sensitivity, which requires storage for old data and logs, extra layers of access control, and more work involved to micromanage it all.

A general rule in systems administration is to keep systems as simple and standardized as possible , but even though we know inefficiency adds to our costs and headaches, the status quo still seems easier for us to face than the prospect of changing our policies and procedures. For these reasons, developing a data classification policy and performing a data inventory survey just got added to my employer’s initiatives for the new year. But how to go about it?

Look To The Experts

I found a thorough, detailed outline of the data classification process available from the ISACA Journal Online (JOnline), 2006 vol. 5. For those who don’t know, ISACA is the Information Systems Audit & Control Association, a “pace-setting global organization for information governance, control, security and audit professionals.” The basic steps they outlined were:

  • Identify critical processes and data
  • Identify ownership, control and liability
  • Determine security and business requirements for classifying data
  • Outline your data classification scheme
  • Evaluate changes to processes because of classification

Data Inventory

My team has spent the past few years working with other agencies within our company to develop a business continuity plan, which means we have already spent a lot of time interviewing people about what systems and applications they use to conduct their daily business, and which of these are most critical to perform their essential job functions. The information we collected with this survey is a perfect place to start our data classification process. By interviewing data owners or directly reviewing the identified datasets, we can determine the nature of that data and then determine which regulatory concerns apply to its handling.

Business and Security Requirements

The ISACA JOnline article contains an extensive, detailed data classification table. This is where specific requirements of regulatory policies come into play, like Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPPA, Export Administration Regulations, and so forth.

Reviewing actual classification policies used by other organizations, such as Carnegie Mellon University, Michigan Technological University, University of California-Berkley and the Texas Department of Information Resources suggest that its best to limit your effective classes to 3 broad categories; which is in keeping with our “simple as possible” philosophy. These categories can be generalized as “high”, “medium” and “low” sensitivity; with the default posture being “medium” sensitivity unless specific determinations are made to require “high” or “low” safeguards.

Some commercial policies recommend to make a further distinction between between “our” sensitive data and “someone else’s” sensitive data (company confidential vs. client confidential) for added granularity. This might be an appropriate choice for some environments, especially if separate regulatory standards apply to these types of data in our environment.

Update Your Processes

After all that, the most important step is to make sure to update IT processes to support your data classification standards. One best practice we have learned is to group data sets with similar security requirements into discrete resource pools (servers, clusters or virtualized machines) to simplify automated administration tasks. This also allows default controls and settings to be set and enforced by group policies, insulating us from some types of common administrative errors. The fewer classifications we have to manage, the easier it will be for our admins to apply them, and for our auditors to evaluate them.

Development and production processes need to make sure information regarding new systems is added to the data classification library, so that new systems aren't left out of the loop. System configurations, access audits, maintenance tasks and log management policies need to be configured in accordance with the newly identified requirements.

In truth, this is the uncomfortable phase where everyone’s existing routines get impacted -- but that’s what makes the difference between an organization that can count on a compensating control like breach insurance to cover any potential gaps in their administrative practices, and one that is left to be held liable for its own negligence.

What is the most important customer group?

Digital Analytics – What is the most important customer group?

For years, many e-commerce managers struggled to understand online users’ behavior, so they could turn their portals into more efficient sources of revenue. At first, most of the activities and promotions were designed and focused on engaging both existing and new users, with the focus varying from time to time between the two groups; however the realty in most cases was that decisions were based primarily on personal opinions and current trends.

Despite spending hundreds of hours and several years analyzing web analytics, hoping to distinguish between these two groups, it has become clear that the more one learns about them, the more difficult it is to identify the difference between them. One of the main reasons for this is that overall, technology is evolving at a much faster pace than analytics technologies are, or at least it feels that way for most small businesses.

The “new visitors” segment can be a bit misleading at first. In theory, a new visitor should be a person who is visiting your site for the first time and a new customer should be a person who has purchased your product or service for the first time. In today’s world, however, it is very common for users to have multiple devices, such as a laptop computer, an iPhone, an iPad, and in many cases, multiple browsers installed on the same device. This makes it much harder for analytics tools to identify visitors as the same person. In my case, I have a laptop with multiple browsers, which I take from home to my office almost every day, therefore connecting on various networks (IP addresses). I often make online purchases and, depending on what I am buying, will use different credit cards and shipping addresses. Therefore, for most analytics tools, who am I? Am I a new or existing customer? Am I a new or existing visitor?
When Google released the Real-Time Data component to Google Analytics, I felt that most of my business dreams were about to come true. As a young boy I remember being trained by my dad about how to approach customers. He had told me to approach a customer that had just entered the store. I hesitated because I saw that there were other people that were also about to open the door and come in, so I asked him, “Who should I talk to first?” He replied, “The most important customer right now is the one inside of the store.” Along those lines, if you were to ask me today which customer group is more important I would definitely answer, “The one currently browsing your website!”

With Real-Time Google Analytics you can have real time data that will allow you to push content and specific data, in order to generate revenue. You can do this because you can effectively monitor the results of new campaigns and site-to-site content (prices, coupons, etc.) based on the traffic demographics. With Real-Time Data available it becomes much easier to see key data such as:
  • The number of people currently browsing your site
  • Their geographic locations and the traffic sources that referred them
  • Number of incomplete orders (cart abandonment)
  • Which pages or events they're interacting with, and which conversions goals are working best

In conclusion, there are no shortcuts when it comes to managing a successful e-commerce portal. The more time you spend understanding your customer base, the better businessperson you will become. Making the right decisions and minimizing your investment risk will depend on how much time you are willing to spend to understand your customers.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Too Spy or not Too Spy: There should be no Question!

Digital Analytics is here to stay there is no question. With all the optimization, efficiency and the ability to better target your audience, the appeal is natural and understandable. With this in mind; how do we sure up the data so as to maintain privacy in an increasingly “Peeping Tom” environment?

Today’s Information environment is vast; companies have figured ways to collect data from their users in ways never before believed possible. When, where, how much, frequency, and the list goes on for what is being collected. Devices to chart sleep patterns, location, steps per day, mood when buying based on patters, items related to current purchase based on previously collected data, etc. All this advancement with one real goal; money! No I mean a happier you oops. A Nobile goal on the surface but who is looking at it from any other angle, is another perspective even necessary?

Let’s start with no. No we have no need to be concerned. No one cares about this data, at least not from a malicious standpoint. Even if they did we have randomized it so that users are protected and kept anonymous. In fact all we know is IP address activity, not even who is using it. Or in other cases, yes we know who they are, they created an account but we enforce strict security measures to prevent the malicious use of our user’s data. We would never allow access to our data without going through the proper channels and following regulation.

While this sounds good on the service and it might even be true let’s look at it from another angle. And let’s call this angle “Current Events”. For the past several months we have read articles about a man named Edward Snowden, Articles about the “NSA” National Security Agency, and how they are behaving with our information and who/how they are obtaining it. There are even articles about other countries spying for many years on our data and we are just finding out.

We should now look at this phenomenon from another angle. Our data is not private! It is neither safe nor secure! It is being sold to the highest bidder with whatever motives suit the buyer as it is not in the sells best interest to ask. And most people don’t understand what that means in breadth or depth.

This is not an environment of privacy! In fact most people, especially the elderly, have no idea they are consenting to the whoring of their data in the first place (even if they did hit the “I agree” button at the end of their 5,000th, 200page consent form). Hopefully no atrocities are going to be committed by the data being collected/used this way, at least we all hope there aren’t (makes you wonder what the NSA told AT&T to leave out of their report, ). This begs the question. What might happen if the data was to be used maliciously? Who would be accountable?

With statements like this from Google “users have no legitimate expectation of privacy” what does that mean for the future. If I want to keep my information private how do I do this and still participate in this wave of future with all of its convince and pizazz? Is it reasonable for a non IT expert to go off the grid in hopes to keep some privacy? Do I forego all the sales and deals associated with this data collection movement? Or do we look at protecting the users privacy TRULY while still collecting the necessary data? There seem to be a few companies who have this mind set and users appreciate it.

It is important for the Data Analytics of the future to keep the trust of its data pool. There is very much a symbiotic relationship between the two and the relationship needs to remain pure. No more NSA “gifts”, no more selling your user data unless completely anonymous (it’s not anonymous if our email is getting spammed or our phones are being called by the company that bought our data). Protect the privacy of your users and Karma will make sure it comes back to you!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Social Media and the “Social Cloud”, Does It Matter?

"Social Cloud"- Reality or Buzzword?

In today's world, we often hear the word "cloud" used to mean something drastically different than what our grandparents and ancestors would have understood. For example, we hear of information clouds and technology clouds that store our files, data, thoughts, and even opinions of other things, people, and companies. The advent of modern social media has brought with it a potential opportunity for customers to voice their concerns and opinions and for companies to gain a competitive edge by being the first to hear and respond to those concerns. The question remains, does this "social cloud" really matter for businesses, or is it just a new buzz word?
Social media, social cloud, and business: do these terms matter for your company's online marketing strategy and how do I track social media.

Incorporating Social Media

The answer is anything but simple. Social media, as a basic theoretical construct, has been around for an arguably long time. Social media essentially connotes interactions between people, including the creation, sharing, and/or exchange of ideas or information in communities or networks. Thus, the interactions of people at a city event could be classified as one type of social media channel—not just the accompanying Facebook posts or tweets on Twitter. This broad, abstract definition and concept is, perhaps, one reason why so many businesses are struggling to leverage social media to gain a competitive advantage in their respective industries. For purposes of this writing, we will largely define social media in its electronic form of virtual communities and networks via electronic channels (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.). In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 75% of companies do not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them, and only 7% of companies are able to integrate social media into their marketing activities (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010). While the majority of companies today are trying to incorporate social media in their marketing efforts (a recent study suggests that 9 out of 10 SMBs use or are planning to use social media [Yeung, 2014]), it is clear that the art and science of effectively utilizing the "social cloud" to attract new customers, satisfy existing customers, and promote a brand has yet to be completely established.

Navigating the "social cloud" helps a company attract and influence new and existing customers Social media resources should facilitate listening, engaging, and influencing customers
Incorporating social media into marketing strategies will likely continue to grow and even more companies will promise the quick, best-practice, golden path to effectively navigating this "social cloud".  However, success with this endeavor and the answer to whether or not this "social cloud" really matters for businesses depends on the given company's strategic vision for leveraging social media. As Avinash Kaushik puts it: "Too many companies have not evolved from what I call 'shout marketing'—think TV, newspapers, magazine ads—to influence by initiating and participating in conversations with consumers" (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010). Merely "telling" your customers what they should think of your brand or which products they should buy is no longer an option. With new technologies, clouds, and mobile devices, the conversations about a company or a product are no longer tethered to the physical community of human interactions, but are now accessible to virtual networks of people on a massive and international scale. Furthermore, these conversations are happening regardless of a company's ability to locate and hear them. So how exactly can we hear these millions upon millions of conversations, and how do we make those conversations actionable?
The current market is full of tools and software that facilitate the essential tactics of listening, engaging, and influencing, ranging from free to very expensive. These include, but are not limited to: Radian6, Buddy Media, Adobe Social, Hootsuite, Klout, Social Mention, TweetDeck, and more. The following video also provides some interesting insights in this regard and an example of how an individual used social media to gain a unique position in his respective marketplace:

 Whatever the resource used to enable social media in marketing efforts, the successful company will listen, engage the audience, and influence in a way that matches the customer's needs and expectations. For example, sending a customer an advertisement to purchase a product in response to a complaint is probably not appropriate and suggests the company is not listening, just stalking. Effective companies typically use social media to promote brands and products/services, monitor trends among customers, research new product ideas, collect customer reviews, and advertise (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010). 

In conclusion, successfully navigating the "social cloud" depends on the company's strategic vision for implementation and ability to make virtual conversations actionable. Merely "listening" to your customers is almost as bad as "telling" them what they should think. The critical component involves creating a structured, strategic vision to engage and influence customers where they are already talking about you.

·         Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.  The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action. 2010
·         Wikipedia. Social Media.
·         Yeung, Ken. LinkedIn report says small businesses are becoming more astute users of social media for marketing. 2014,!wm2Iw
·         Links for resources:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does Google Hurt or Help You?

As the father of daughters I can only hope that time drags, but inevitably the dating years will come.  Before one of my daughters even leaves the house on any sort of “outing” I plan on navigating a few of the major search engines to see exactly what type of person my daughter thinks she is leaving the house with.  I do not plan on being the overbearing crazy parent, but there is a difference between trust and ensuring those that you care about most are safe.  

There may be those that find this a little much, but a university recruiter or hiring manager that plans on having any sort of success in their job is going to do likewise.  It would be na├»ve to think that you as a prospective candidate wouldn’t be researched as part of the interviewing process.  An application and brief discussion being sufficient is a thing of the past.  There is too much data out there that is too easily accessed.  Companies know a bad hire will cost them thousands of dollars in separation costs, replacement spending, and lost productivity during training. (Williams, 2013)  Before committing to a salary and benefits, or admittance to a program due diligence will be taken to ensure an individual meets the necessary qualifications and will be a good fit from a values and culture standpoint as well.  

As indicated by the video your web presence can be a positive influence to your personal brand.  How can you use the internet as a tool rather than a hindrance?

Develop a Strategy

The first step is to identify the channels that are out there and what the purpose of those channels is going to be.  

For example I limit my Facebook connections to…friends.  My plan is to use LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ for a broader but more professional focused intent.  I still try to be mindful of everything that gets uploaded to the internet that has my name attached to it.  I know that whatever I post while logged into Facebook to a degree is now Facebook’s property.  What I mean is that data is now on their servers and out of my immediate control.  However with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ I plan, even hope that complete strangers will view it and it will shape their perception of me for the better.  Customize this to your purposes, just be mindful of what settings are in place on your social media accounts.  

Social media is not the only way to develop your personal brand.  Getting involved in specialty groups and extra-curricular activities will get your name out there.  Even if the group has nothing directly to do with your career goals employers enjoy knowing what you do in your free time.  Universities want to know how you contribute as a citizen in your local community.  (Shaevitz, 2013)
Part of that strategy may involve damage control.  Performing a search on yourself may help you identify content that you may not want on the internet.  If you are lucky you can take steps at getting that removed.  An extreme example can be found by the founder of the company BrandYourself, Pete Kistler.  He googled his name to find that others with the same name were ranking high on search results.  The problem was one of these individuals was a convicted criminal and the other was a registered sex offender.  

Demonstrate Knowledge and Skills

Now it is up to you to show the world what you know and how you can bring value to an organization.  There are plenty of articles on sites such as Mashable, Inc Magazine, etc. that will help you understand how you can maximize social media.  A personal website is the ultimate online resume and portfolio that far too many professionals are still not taking advantage of.  There are countless free and convenient options that allows even the most novice web user to create their own site.  Make a tutorial.  Review a book.  Share an applicable YouTube video.  The key is to be a voice among the noise. 




Shaevitz, M. (2013, April 11). What College Admissions Offices Look for in Extracurricular Activities . Retrieved from The Huffington Post:
Williams, T. (2013, August 9). Why You Can’t Afford to Hire the Wrong Employee. Retrieved from Intuit: