OpinionTechnology

The Internet is stalking you — what does that mean for your business?

How to conduct yourself and your business

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When the World Wide Web was introduced, we all experienced each aspect of the places we visited in the same way. We might get there through different routes, but once we arrived, the experience was the same: the same information and the same ads.

That has changed as we put more and more of ourselves online.

Now, depending on what accounts we are logged into and where we have been before, our Internet experiences differ markedly. Advertising is now highly personalized. Retargeting now means that we see advertising designed to entice us by showing us things we’ve looked at before, bought — even things in which we have expressed an interest.

Check out a pair of shoes on Amazon, and they will follow you around the Web in ads on the websites you visit for weeks. Retargeting might be annoying, but it is astonishingly effective.

The personalized Internet that you see is a mixture of self-selection and algorithms. Recently, a Facebook study showed that your selection of friends has a greater impact on the news you see in their feed than the Facebook algorithms do. The two together make for an increasingly narrowed experience.

A new book, “The Reputation Economy” by Michael Fertik and David Thompson, explores an ongoing trend impacting our lives: decisions almost made by machine, which means that the machine handles most of the decisions it makes such as sifting through candidates for a job to identify likely prospects. We aren’t even aware of a lot of these decisions.

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In theory, personalization means that you get a lot more of things you like based on what you’ve already enjoyed in the past.

Another innovation the authors pointed out is the way rankings will change. Currently, most rankings are the same for everyone. For example, your Zillow rating shows the same rankings and testimonials to everyone. However in the future many rankings and recommendation sites might move into a version 2.0 where rankings and reviews shown vary based on who the user is.

If a person using a restaurant review site is more likely to prefer adventurous food, the site might show that person reviews from like-minded reviewers. This personalized scoring system will become more and more popular.

Apps and search tools designed to help real estate agents and new clients connect pop up every day, and increasingly they include information on the agent’s previous sales, including where the sale took place, the selling price and how long it stayed on the market.

A future search tool could easily match a potential home seller with an agent based on location and success as well as personal affinities. A few years ago realtor.com acquired SocialBios, which matched searchers with clients based on shared social points of contact (Facebook friends, etc.). New search tools will go far deeper. A few ways to thrive in the new Web:

Be a good citizen online

Of course, your online profiles should be regularly updated, but also be careful about how you use social media to complain about brands and services or talk politics.

Don’t go crazy in the comments section, and also be careful of your search terms. As we’ve seen with retargeting, the searches you make can impact what you see, but they might also influence how algorithms see you and present you to others. The idea here is to craft the ideal social self.

Be a good citizen offline

These days what you do offline follows you online, as well. Reputations can be destroyed quickly. Recently a business owner made some inflammatory and racist remarks in a city council meeting. The news of this quickly traveled online where outraged citizens immediately filled up Yelp and other review sites with complaints. This scenario is a case of word spreading fast and reputations being affected.

Googling yourself isn’t enough anymore: When you Google yourself you only see what you will see. Even logging in with someone else’s information will only give you part of the picture, but it’s still worth doing on a regular basis and updating and recalibrating as necessary. Most people only look at the first page of Google results, but because search results can vary for different people, it is worth cleaning up as much as you can.

Deidre Woollard is head of communications at Partners Trust, a luxury real estate brokerage in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter: @Deidre. 

Email Deidre Woollard.