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12/11/2012
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Moxie Adds Personal Touch To Facebook Chat

Engage+ lets companies access information on customers' Facebook profiles, raising questions about the limits of social networking.

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Have you ever put an item in an online shopping cart and then either forgotten about it or decided you didn't want it after all? If so, you might have received an invitation to chat with a customer service rep wondering whether you had any questions or issues -- a capability made possible by products like Moxie Software's Chat Spaces. But what if the chat invitation got personal? Would you appreciate the business going the extra mile, or would you be creeped out?

Moxie Software has announced the release of a social chat application that gives companies the ability to access a consumer's Facebook profile and to engage in a more personalized social conversation. Leveraging Facebook's API, the chat application -- called Engage+ -- incorporates Facebook's data and evaluates profile information that consumers share. When a consumer visits the Facebook page of a brand using Engage+, he or she may be asked to chat with the brand. If the offer to chat is accepted, additional information is made available to the brand -- based on permissions -- including age, friend count, interests, likes and any related competitor activity, according to Moxie. (A demo of Engage+ can be found here.)

This information allows companies to create a personalized shopping and service experience on Facebook, potentially resulting in increased revenue and conversion of competitors' customers.

[ Moovweb is working to improve the mobile commerce experience. Read more at Moovweb 'Site Virtualization' Synchronizes E-Commerce Offers. ]

But what about the creep factor? Moxie Software representatives addressed the issue during a briefing with The BrainYard, suggesting that customers don't mind such targeted engagement -- indeed, they have come to expect it.

"I live in San Diego," Tara Sporrer, VP of marketing at Moxie, told The BrainYard. "When I'm searching to go to a local coffee shop, I don't have to tell them what I'm doing; they just know that, and I appreciate that. It doesn't feel like I'm sharing too much data for them to have that information. I think consumers have come to expect the enterprise to know those kinds of things about them today."

There's a debate about that very subject going on in the comments section of this insightful article by Tom Claburn. Tom's post focuses on social networks themselves, but he raises some bigger-picture issues relating to trust.

"The problem with commercial communication is that it's something less than honest," wrote Claburn. "It's antisocial because it calls trust into question. Social networking undermines the social contract. Marketing might be necessary, but it shouldn't pervade every online interaction."

Judging from the many comments it has received so far (full disclosure: including from me), Tom's article really struck a nerve, with readers debating user expectations and knowledge levels. Said one reader: "I would be shocked if, for example, the majority of Facebook users were so naive that they didn't think their data was actively being used by marketers. Whether they like it or not is a different question, but it's definitely a general assumption. Or more people live under a rock than I thought."

This is not to say that companies like Moxie should not continue to look for and provide ways for businesses to more actively engage with customers on social networking platforms. On the contrary -- products like Engage+ will move the business of social forward. And yes, it's likely that many, if not most, users understand that Facebook and other social networks are leveraging as much personal data as possible to generate revenue. Social networks, social business technology vendors and businesses that leverage social just need to make sure that they are acknowledging -- and respecting -- whether their customers "like it or not."

Should users just get used to companies knowing more and more about them? Is all of this just the equivalent of giving up your personal data in return for a CVS ExtraCare Card and all the savings and benefits it confers? Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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