The Spy who Liked me

Following on from the email marketing storm spinning round the web last week, Ben and Jerry’s have issued a partial retraction.

“In general, I think it’s a bit of a misunderstanding. The announcement came from our UK team, who was basically sharing that they planned to reach out to their fans via social media moving forward. I think they wanted to alleviate any fears from fans who previously received a newsletter style email to think that they had somehow fallen off the list. I believe they’re still keeping email as a venue for special events/opportunities as they mentioned they might still reach out via email.

Again, this was a note from our UK team. I believe the rest of the Ben & Jerry’s folks around the globe (including us here at the HQ in Vermont who support the U.S. and the globe) are planning to continue to use: email, social media, text messaging, augmented reality, snail mail, vanilla guerrilla marketing, grassroots Social Mission endeavors, sky writers, deep-sea divers and of course… scoop trucks on the road.”

– Sean Greenwood, Ben & Jerry’s

So its a UK issue (damn Limeys, always getting stuck in there first) but the really interesting bit is the marvellous mixture of media they light heartedly outline as their contact and engagement strategy. This loose amalgam and the type of data it generates illustrates rather nicely what will drive the next massive opportunity.

Consider how we’ve leapt from consuming to actively creating content (even quite unconsciously) and how this vibrant mixture and mashup of our online social activity together with inputs from the huge government and corporate data stores popping up online, is melding with the burgeoning mass of sensor sourced information from RFID tags et al on the glorious Internet of Things. The further organisation of this seemingly inconsequential data into machine readable Semantic Web categorisation is happening all around us in a myriad of ways even though we can’t always see it taking shape or perceive, yet, what benefits this living, pulsating digital organism may bring as it blossoms and bears fruit.

There’s gold in them thar hills.

The frictionless consumer experience is gaining momentum and shape. IT leadership, and the CIO in particular, should be leading the charge and setting the strategies and the corporate agenda that will build infrastructures to generate rich, relevant data and to also seamlessly engineer its employment it to best business and societal benefit. Big Society along with Big Business is going to need Big Data as we emerge from the financial doldrums into the new citizen driven utopia. Could this provisioning of useful ‘house’ data to the machine readable web become a significant and positive leg to CSR in the 21st Century? Oh dear, let the howling begin….

If there is to be an unforeseen casualty in all this it may be the clandestine brethren of the world’s most secret intelligence services. These masters of technology who, over many centuries, have relied so heavily on cutting edge technology to spin and maintain their own intricate webs of deceit may well fall victim to the linked record and rich data of the thoroughly modern Web. How much more difficult will it now become to create the ‘legend’ and fake identities employed by field operatives to live among us and harvest our secrets. As national governments increasingly share data in a bid to stem the influx of terror so too is the web itself connecting to deploy a history that cannot easily be manipulated without leaving very obvious tracks and gaps in continuity. We are developing a social media history that gets richer every time we connect and thats quite without the data sources of cellphone data, banking, utility records or even library cards.

So beware, if you’ve not been Liking it on Facebook and contributing to the Open Graph, if your checkins don’t tally on Foursquare and your tweets don’t harmonise, then the FBI may want to know why.

Footnote: Even as I typed this a mail arrived for me from the City of London Police asking me to follow them (an interesting role reversal …and my car Likes this) on Twitter and to interact with them on Facebook.