SXSW 2011 – How to Use Web Personalization Without Being Creepy
Web personalization takes many forms today. Using information provided by users can improve the user experience by allowing companies to deliver more relevant content to that individual. But when does it cross the line from being useful and convenient, to being flat out creepy?
From targeted Facebook advertising, to Foursquare restaurant suggestions to personalized web content, the key elements to think about is how this information about a user is obtained, how it is used and how this process is explained to the user.
Some main points that seemed to surface from the SXSW panel on Web Personalization were:
– Relevance in web content is becoming increasingly more important as the web gets more crowded. Users need to, and will appreciate, the ability to filter things out that are relevant to them. Life is too short to see a generic website.
– When asking for and using user’s information, trust is important – and extremely fleeting if you violate it. Users are providing information to a site for a reason. Make sure that it is clear to those users what they will be getting in return. It’s all about setting expectations and living up to them; transparency is key. Explain to the user that their information is being used to perhaps, purchase a product, but that it also may be used to improve their future site visits (think YouTube’s “We know you watched this video, so you may like this one.”) Make it obvious why contributing your data makes your experience better.
– Consider the subtle difference between customization and personalization, and utilize each appropriately. Customization allows users to choose what they want to see or not see to improve their experience on a site. Personalization implicitly or explicitly takes some information then automatically uses it to drive the user experience in a different way. Both are effective, but maybe suited to different situations.
– Give people an out. As Facebook connect and other personalization services are allowing for quick and highly integrated personalization, some people may not be comfortable with it. Why force them into a situation they may not be happy with? A simple “off” button on a feature or application may be enough to preserve that level of trust with an important customer.
While it may seem like most of this is somewhat common sense, it’s good to review these mental checks to ensure that the trust and benefit of the user is kept at top of mind. Personalization can then become a strong, mutually beneficial tool for the user and the company when relevant content, products or services are more easily delivered to an individual.