Amid a big year of data security concerns and intellectual property issues with 3rd party social networks, it’s no wonder Stanford University’s registrar Tom Black has turned to private when it comes to building social networking features like group chat for students.
“We have a legal responsibility to protect student’s data and we take that very seriously. We needed a way to allow our more than sixteen thousand students, thousands of faculty and staff, plus Alumni, to connect with each other in robust ways, safely,” says Black.
Black explained the new version of the iStanford app uses ‘Omlet’, a newproduct by mobile social platform startup MobiSocial, to power the social experience. The integration allows users to use the University’s directory to connect with one another, share files, privately discuss projects — or even companies (Stanford has it’s own start-up incubator), and, get this, users can even build and share their own apps on the platform. This last bit is a pretty exciting feature for a school with the majority of students working towards computer science degrees.
MobiSocial’s CEO, Monica Lam, says this is exactly why she and her team built the “world’s most advanced privacy protection technology.” As a Stanford Computer Science Professor, Lam saw firsthand the need for students to be able to own their own data and store it “wherever they choose” (on Dropbox, for example) while accessing easy-to-use collaboration tools.
Lam points out that protecting data is a growing concern for both organizations and users. She’s right; data security is a huge topic for everyone from local governments to corporations to consumers. However, in her effort to protect user data, she created something much more powerful – for marketers.
You might be asking yourself how is this possible? If users control their data, then what will happen to marketing? I get it; we have all become enchanted with the allure of more and more data, but the truth is, nobody uses much of the data available anyway. An executive at a social data company recently told me that none of their clients even come close to using the more than four thousand pieces of data they can collect (not even 1/10 of it) because “they have no where to store it, no one to analyze it, and no process to integrate it.”
So, why are we afraid to lose it? To answer this question, we need to go back a bit and remember when we first began using social networks for business. If you recall, at this stage, the excitement we felt as marketers was actually about the ability to interact with consumers directly without having to go through a publisher — not about the data. It was a huge shift. We could talk directly to our customers in real-time, for free! It was glorious – then. But now we are here, where we continue to lose ground. After spending tons of time, labor, and cold-hard cash to build our audiences, Facebook continues to throttle back organic reach, Twitter is noisy as hell, and Instagram is still too nascent to bet on yet, much less SnapChat.
But your mobile device? It’s here to stay. And cutting out the intermediary is a real option this time. Of course, not every organization has the same critical ingredients for creating a successful private network like Stanford does (a built-in user base of tens of thousands of people with strong, lifelong social connections, as well as a daily need to collaborate) — but a lot do. And many of them have become much more skilled at driving users, nurturing conversions, and managing communities since the early days of the web-based private social networks of the nineties and early 2000s.
The early adopters and social powerhouses (Bands and Brands) are now primed to benefit from this emerging technology. Sadly, bands and recording artists are one of the biggest casualties of Facebook’s decline in organic reach. Unlike canned communications from most companies, people actually want to hear updates from their favorite artists. GRAMMY Award winning singer MYA explains, “Social media has created a more intimate experience between artists and fans than previously experienced in the music industry. It’s exciting to envision the sharing and collaboration opportunities we will be able to have in a more private, secure environment.”
Brands spending the time and money on great content are in the same boat. But for brands, not only is it possible to remove the intermediary by building a private, in-app social experience, but also through the process of authentication, marketers can even program user-specific interactions. Lam gave an example of how Visa could pop up a notification to ask if you are in Japan if there was a recent charge from there or a restaurant could give specific-users a check-in deal or airlines could sync flight information to address customer needs issues like a lost bag or a missed flight without you having to type in a word.
The use cases go on and on, and the organizations that solve these problems and create a utility built on social, real-time, personalized interactions and collaborations will have a fighting chance in the race for mobile dominance. I am sure the savviest of brand marketers are looking for solutions (this might be the same reason Omlet had more Twitter mentions during SXSW than Silicon Valley darling Secret). After all, the app world is still the Wild West, and there are no clear victors yet. And when it all shakes out, the winners might not be anyone you ever expected. Lest you forget, it wasn’t that long ago that Facebook was “only” a college social network.