Could you ditch your customer database and just use Facebook instead?

How much do you know about your customers? Do you have a database on them with information such as address, email, phone number and when they last bought something from you? But do you know details of their spouse, or their birthday, or their wedding anniversary, or even their favourite movie? 
You don’t have that kind of information on your customers? Well that’s probably natural. Customers don’t go giving away all that information to every firm they buy something from, but they do give it away to Facebook. What if you could start using Facebook as your customer database?
Just imagine the benefits, it is self-administered because users manage their own data and generally keep it up to date – a lot more up to date than anything you can manage in-house. It requires almost no infrastructure because all the data exists in the cloud. It is freely available. And best of all, people on Facebook give away a lot more about themselves than they would in a commercial transaction – say buying a meal in a restaurant or buying car insurance.
What could be the downside? 
You no longer have any control over the quality of data – that all going to be outsourced to the users and some customers might find it creepy; this really has to be an opt-in kind of database.
Steve Jones, global head of Master Data Management (MDM) at Capgemini, recently explained this potential use of Facebook to me over a coffee in London. MDM is a notoriously complex subject that can drain the will to live from even the most hardened database administrator, but the idea of using open data in this way – whether with Facebook or another social network – opens up a world of new possibilities and deals with most of the complexities of managing customer databases internally.
Steve explained how companies that have already started exploring community building on Facebook can go a step further and start using the data that is freely open to them. It sounds incredible, but I know that I have joined many groups on Facebook representing businesses that I know and trust. I don’t think I would be offended if I was a member of a group for my local Italian restaurant and they emailed me offering a special deal because they could see my wedding anniversary coming up soon.
The one big question here is over data use. People feel free to expose their personal data when confined to friends and family, but would they be comfortable opening it up to companies and organisations too?

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