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How to mine customer data the right way

Robert Vamosi | March 15, 2011
You have to run a business, and that requires understanding what interests your customers. But you also want to do the right thing and protect your customers' privacy.

Buy a List

You don't have to do the data collection yourself. You can buy and customize lists to suit your specific needs--for example, to target healthcare professionals earning more than $100,000.

Dun & Bradstreet's Hoovers is perhaps the best-known source, with over 85 million individuals in its database; also using the Dun & Bradstreet data is Zapdata. Yet another source of CRM prospects is InfoUSA, a member of Infogroup.

However, such lists are not without fault, even when purchased at a premium. You can expect to find some "bounces" even on the best of these services as people change jobs (or at least change their e-mail addresses). Perhaps up to 10 percent of the entries may be "bad," so plan accordingly.

Don't Scrape

As mentioned above, the terms of service for most social networks prohibit commercial use of the information contained in their sites. It might seem easy to obtain e-mail addresses from members of a particular social network, but this action violates the terms of service for most networks. Basically, you can use your fan page and solicit contacts by asking them to be your friend or to join your network, but you can't copy someone's information without their permission.

What about copying the contacts from a rival or former company? That is also disallowed, although the legal precedents are still being worked out in the courts. In some cases courts have found that a company's contact list on their social network site is public, while other courts have found that that is not the case.

Also, not every social network is the same. Facebook grants members only noncommercial rights, but LinkedIn is designed for professionals to use in building up contacts, so usage of its information for commercial use may be all right.

Use a Targeted Approach

So, on which social networks should you build a page and collect friends and contacts? If you already have a mailing-list program, you can use it to find out which social media services your clients use. The program SocialPro employs MailChimp-generated mailing lists to crawl social media sites and return raw numbers of contacts using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among others.

From such results, you can learn which media your clients prefer so that you can better target your marketing campaigns. You can then design video and even applications that best appeal to your audience.

Beware of Unintended Risks From Applications

Last fall Facebook disclosed that developers may have leaked personal information about its users; applications such as FarmVille and Texas Hold'em allegedly sent Facebook ID numbers to at least 25 advertising and data firms. A class-action lawsuit regarding such third-party access to data has been filed against Facebook. However, that hasn't stopped Facebook from making a controversial move to formally allow third-party apps to access users' personal information. Facebook did pull this feature due to public pressure, but the company appears certain to launch it sometime in 2011.


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