Marketing has gone gaga over social media. (Come to think of it, gaga may be marketing's default state.) Marketers being who they are, they are trying to figure out ways to use social media to control consumers and bend them to their will. As they seek to do that, they will look to IT to make their visions reality. It's up to the adults in IT to inject some rationality into those discussions.
What brings this to mind is an interesting and deliriously over-the-top feature announced by Snapchat on May 1 and called simply Here. The intent of the program is innocuous enough. It's supposed to allow people to pop up on your mobile screen without the phone ringing and -- here's the tricky part -- without you agreeing to it. If you have ever seen marketers in action, you can probably see why I think this will appeal to them.
The video that Snapchat made shows how the program would work when everything goes perfectly. And it indeed looks like an attractive feature if you buy into Snapchat's assumptions about how people should interact. As a Business Insider piece described it: "It's all part of Snapchat's strategy called 'Here,' which strives to make all users feel like their friends are constantly present and attentive."
The catch is that friends -- especially the rather all-encompassing definition of friends adopted by users of Snapchat and other social media -- are in fact not constantly present and attentive. What better way to drive that point home than to force people to make a binary choice: interact with me now or not at all?
Snapchat differentiated its original photo-messaging service with its Mission: Impossible twist: Photos and videos vanished 10 seconds after they were viewed by the recipient. The Here Feature introduces social risks, though. With the original service, you sent an image, and if it was ignored, no one was insulted. But the more personal and real-time the conversation attempt, the more insulting it will feel when it's ignored or rejected. Bizarrely enough, this is why email is arguably the most polite of communication methods. You can send an email whenever it suits you, and it quietly and politely waits until the recipient has the time to deal with it. With Here, you show up on the recipient's screen instantly, and the recipient is either going to start to talk to you right then or just swipe you away into non-existence. Ouch!
Here's the IT headache. This is going to plant ideas into the heads of your marketing counterparts. "Gee, I'd love to be able to pop up on the screens of our customers whenever I want. Make that happen, IT. Of course you can do it. Snapchat's already done it." (As a grown-up, you will want to resist the urge to respond, "And if Facebook jumped off the Empire State Building . . . ?")
Most people have a bit of niceness and politeness inside of them. It's socialized into us as we learn to avoid being rejected a lot. Marketers, though, seem to have no fear of rejection. Only they could routinely send out hundreds of thousands of emails and be thrilled with a 1% response rate. The prospect of being turned down again and again via an instant video-communication app is not going to faze them.
This is why, when I heard about Here, I thought about how dangerous it could be in the hands of the marketing department. People who have no compunction about telephoning millions of people during the dinner hour are not going to resist a technology that will let them instantly show up on the phones of customers, even though those customers might get annoyed if they are driving, going to the bathroom or just watching TV. If their conscience won't stop them, you need to. Sorry, but there's a price for having grown up.
Evan Schuman has covered IT issues for a lot longer than he'll ever admit. The founding editor of retail technology site StorefrontBacktalk, he's been a columnist for CBSNews.com, RetailWeek and eWeek. Evan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be followed at twitter.com/eschuman. Look for his column every Tuesday.