Creepful – The Gray Area Between Insight and Knowing Too Much

Setting the Stage:

You are doing some research, getting ready to purchase a new life insurance policy. The research starts slowly, you go to a few websites, figure you will register, maybe even give up your email address. It could be there was some bit of value offered, access to the interesting looking calculator that will help you determine the amount you need. The calculations are based on a combination of your risk profile (entered), age, family situation and financial situation. It does not seem like a big deal, and you forget about for a few weeks, then your significant other reminds you (for the 5th time) to get it done. So, you go back to the website, it remembers you, but hey, that is convenient, and you fill-in the form, asking someone to call you. About an hour later, Bob calls, and asks if it is good time to talk.

Circa 1990 – This scenario barely existed, maybe one or two companies even considered this possibility, much less the user actually going to the website and inputting the data. If Bob calls, we are all impressed that the lead actually made it to his desk. It was probably put there via sticky note.

Circa 2000 – The scenario was in more common use. You might have received an email follow-up from the company. The details they know about you are specific and isolated to what information you have put on the web form. The majority of companies are using some form of CRM. The process is mostly there, but the data is lacking.

Circa 2010 and the Age of the Social Web

Bob makes the phone call, and he knows a whole about you, your family, your recent trip to Maui. The lead scoring system has a good idea how many times you have visited the website. Bob knows that you have played with the calculator, maybe even some of the data you dumped in there (that should be fodder for debate). By putting in your email address, Bob has access to whatever data you choose to share, or forget not to share (debate topic number 2).

  • Linkedin –  Your job history is available, maybe what some others think of you (references) and other social links you like to share.
  • Blog – The Linkedin profile points to your blog, where you mention your trip to Maui (even though it is business focused blog)
  • Twitter – even with the disclaimer “these tweets are my own blah blah,” it is open and public.
  • Flickr – The blog references a few photos, but upon further inspection, getting to the other photos is pretty easy.

Fun photo 1 – the cool shot of the bungy jumping!!
Fun photo 2 – sitting by the pool, drinking something, but you have a cigar in your mouth (oops)

What is Creepful?

The example here is clearly a B2C (Business to Consumer) example. I do not think however that it is too far from reality-  it is all completely possible, maybe it has happened to you. I would find it really creepy, yes creepy, if Bob talked to me and brought up the trip to Maui. The better part of discretion would say that Bob needs to be very cautious about  the way in which he uses this information. If he is a good salesperson, then simply having the knowledge might be enough (see Martin’s first post).

What if Bob starts talking to much about the trip to Maui, and begins to “know a bit too much” – that is creepy. Now, should Bob tell you what he knows? How should Bob use, or ignore the information he has available? We will get to that important discussion in a moment. The answer to the question is simple, but hard to execute.

Creepful is the perception by the customer (past, present or future) that the company (you) either have access to too much information, or are using the information available in a way that goes against the spirit of social sharing.

It is just not that simple

Unfortunately, this problem is going to get worse, before it gets better; if it ever does get better. Oh, and for the definition above, I am not really going to get religious about it; it is a starting point. If someone wants to change the name, have at it. If you want to change the definition, please feel free, the concept is all that matters. What about this scenario, or the way the information is used (the cigar pictures or bungy jumping to deny you a policy)? is ‘Creepful’?Or, is this just good business practices by Bob for his firm?

As both Martin, and Clint noted in the earlier post, the key may not be the technology, rather how the technology is used. The good relationship builders will continue to understand how to create and maintain solid relationships based on mutual respect and mutual trust. Technology might make certain things easier, but it will make an equal number of things more complicated, as noted above. In a business to business setting, the additional components required will include value creation and co-creation. Again, technology is a facilitator, not a replacement. It is like waxing your skis,  yes you can go down the hill faster, whether you ski in control is completely up to you (a ski metaphor seemed important, as I sit in Miami, Florida in 95 degrees and 90% humidity!!)

What do you think? Are you willing to share a story? too much too little…

9 thoughts on “Creepful – The Gray Area Between Insight and Knowing Too Much

  1. Hi Mitch,

    A very valid point though not sure if its a concern at the level you have described the scenario. Taking your fear of losing out on the policy because you bungee jump or smoke cigars a step further, it is not very difficult to build actuarial science into all the gleanings from the social web & not just reject your policy, but may be actually come up with a policy for the type of activities you do, because the insurance companies now have much better data about the co-relation between your kind of life style & insurance claims (thanks to them having figured out others like you).

    Yes, which way it goes is not the issue of technology, rather the business organizations.

    This is an area where there is medium to high uncertainty as well as bound to have medium to high disagreement between the parties involved – customers & insurance industry. And, as I recently tweeted out, as per Ralph Stacey’s matrix, this is the ripe space for both the parties to co-create rather than come down with an iron fist on the other.


    Thinker, Tinker, Connector |

  2. Mitch,
    You bring out an important point in terms of privacy.

    I teach courses related to web analtyics & search and there is a parallel concern there – the use of cookies by vendors to collect information about your web behavior and then use it for advertising and marketing.

    I think the crux of the matter is less technology and more the usage of information by the companies. There is a fine line in trying to customize a message to an individual’s needs and breaching that individual’s personal sense of privacy.

    I am not too much enamored by the term “creepful” 🙂 , but would agree with you that firms and folks doing the creatives, or interacting with the customers have to realize the distinction between using the information for customization vs transmitting the “collected” information back to the customers and also how much information is ‘enough’.

    This is more an art at this point than science. Also, you will find that privacy laws and perception in Europe is much different than in the US and again different than in Asia. So if you are a global firm, this brings in another level of complexity — what is appropriate in the US might not be appropriate in another region of the world.


  3. Mitch, Prem, Ned…

    I think we have to admit that we are not the ones that will ultimately “answer” this question or find this balance. I think this issue represents a much greater shift in the way we live, buy, sell, and are sold to.

    As Mitch notes, 20 years ago sales people (for the most part) simply could not reach creepiness on this kind of scale, whether they wanted to or not. What complicates this issue is the fact, as noted, that we social media users so freely “give up” this information.

    The rules of engagement in this arena are far from being established. Sure, here are soft skills (led by common sense more than anything) that sales reps can apply – but nothing is in stone.

    I think there will eventually come a day that we will have some “rules” – spurred on by both legislation, a more mature sense of privacy controls for social media, and simply an enlightened online etiquette (I refuse to type the word “netiquette” – dang it! I just did)

    In short – what we are seeing is the kind of phenomena that accompanies the social lag involved with hyper technology development cycles. We’re moving very fast here in the SCRM world – and as sales and marketers, just because we CAN do things does not necessarily mean we should.

    Just my $.02…


  4. When I think of the power of social CRM, I think about enabling front office professionals (marketers, sales people, service reps) with the tools to build relationships. This is the “putting the R back into CRM” that Martin referred to. We spend so much time talking about CRM tools that we forget the purpose at times behind the tools…to make customer LIKE working with you. People are social animals. We like doing business with people we like.

    So that’s the beauty of leveraging the social profile. As a customer-facing professional, you have access to all this great info that people post about themselves to help you create a relationship with that person. But….

    Reference somebody’s college and you look insightful. Reference their kid’s name, now that’s creepy.

    Reference somebody’s home address is normal in B2C scenarios, creepy in B2B. Mentioning you can find online pictures of that person’s house, and its marginal at best. Telling that person you know how much he spent on the house, well isn’t that creepy.

    In fact, you might say that any info somebody posts on LinkedIn is “business use safe”. But Facebook info is marginal, Flikr is dangerous, Amazon Wishlist is just plain creepy.

    Since the goal is to build a relationship with that person, you can’t just arbitrarily rely on that too-often used excuse “there is no privacy any more.” You have to build the social acumen to know when to reference tidbits of social profile data and when to respect a person’s super thin veil of privacy.

    But what are those guidelines? Are they same as in face-to-face communication? Same as in email? Same over the phone? Is the venue the controlling factor or is the purpose of the interaction the controlling factor?

  5. Thanks to all for the comments!

    @Prem – I do not disagree with your comments. That said, until the actuaries know ALL then only one person will be penalized. If the actuaries knew all the details for everyone, then rates would go down, as the risk would be less (charge people for how they alter the risk profile). Part of the issue is the perception of how I feel when someone knows something that I did not expect them to know – just feels weird.

    @Ned – I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts, it is about people, training, education and making sure people understand what they have access to, and how they can and should (or should not) use it. I really like this: “the crux of the matter is less technology and more the usage of information by the companies. There is a fine line in trying to customize a message to an individual’s needs and breaching that individual’s personal sense of privacy”. I appreciate your thoughts!

    @Clint – I agree with your thoughts, but still contend that in order to really put the “R” back into the equation, then “T” for trust needs to be in there as well. If we are friends (which we are) and I picked up the phone and called and talked to you about a bunch of things that I could have only known if I were ‘snooping’ that would be weird, and you might question how (or why) I knew these things. Of course, I am talking about edge cases, simply to illustrate a point. The question you ask at the end of your comments are critical to really putting that “R” back into CRM.

    Thanks all!

  6. I hope this dialog catches the attention of sales people and sales management. I am longing for the day when sales people know too much about me. Today’s reality is that they usually know nothing about me and instead of using information to engage me, they try to bludgeon me into submission with cold calls/emails… that are not relevant.
    Go SCRM, go! Make our sales people more knowledgeable. Please!

  7. Good points Umberto. All too often we in our ivory towers in the valley think way too far ahead in terms of the adoption lag. It is funny though, since we at Sugar are shown every day that so many companies are still using rudimentary forms of CRM policies, technologies etc.

    I think this is good news in terms of the “creepful” argument in that it gives us a lot of lead time to prepare. I mean that we can instill proper policies for social business, since a ton of sales people have no clue yet what all these tools can mean for their everyday business operations.

    Tools like SalesView are just getting started in terms of seeing wide uptake; I predict that in a year’s time more than a million sales people will be using tools like SalesView religiously.


  8. @Umberto – I agree with Martin’s comments as well, no need to repeat. That said, a friend forwarded a link where someone received a very nice birthday note from Geico (Can find the link if you want). The interesting part is that the person who received the note is not a customer of Geico. Small example, does not make a trend.

    We all know that these things act like a pendulum, and that when the new tools are put into the hands of the new, young, aggressive sales people, one or two will not really understand the boundaries. In my opinion, this will be for a couple of reasons – 1, I see the 18-20s now, and boundaries are not well understood. 2, given a quota, deadline or whatever, they will ‘do what it takes.

  9. Facebook I lock up tight to all but friends. My twitter account I’ve started to use to test my company’s social media strategy, although most of my followers are from a political podcast I do as a personal project. They might be wondering why I’m tweeting about SaaS and CRM.

    Any utility in having two sets of social media profiles? It would be kind of nice if social media venues made it possible to spawn a second “clean” profile you can use to raise your profile in your industry without letting people rake through photos of you cannon balling off a dock at the cabin.

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