Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You can look at anything in our store...just don't look with your camera

If you believe the more starry-eyed soldiers in the Revolution of Social Media, any visit to any business should be a social experience. New, modern 21st century businesses want to communicate with their customers via all existing social channels, according to the starry-eyed. Check in with Foursquare or other services! Review on Yelp or other services! Tweet about your experiences! Take pictures via Marissa's new favorite image website, Flickr, or her old favorite image website, Picasa! And -

Uh, what's that?

Put the camera down?

What sign on the front door?

You see, your typical meat loaf store will do anything for social media love, but it won't do that picture thing. And sometimes, they really mean it. Penny Shelton:

My husband and I were visiting Paris last spring. We saw a McDonald’s and wanted to take a picture of the menu board to show my six-year-old grandson. I knew he’d get a kick out of seeing how different it appeared from a McDonald’s in the United States....

She grabbed me by my arm and jacket and threw my back against the open door, all the while grabbing at different parts of my coat with one hand and pinning me there with another. Within seconds another woman appeared at the scene and put her arm across my chest.

Now this is not unique to McDonald's, or to France. (DISCLOSURE: I am employed by a company that is owned by a French firm.) If you scroll through the comments, you'll see mentions of India, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary, as well as Burger King and Starbucks. And I'm sure that Thomas Hawk can tell you some stories about places here in the United States that frown on picture-taking.

But here the starry-eyed will say that McDonald's, Burger King, et al are DOING IT WRONG and DON'T GET IT. Then the starry-eyed will claim that real 21st century companies understand transparency and publicity and all of that.

If you believe this is true, I suggest that you perform this simple test.

First, find a store (grocery or retail) that is demonstrably social media aware - one that demands that you check in before they'll even let you in the door.

Second, walk into that store with your favorite cool smartphone.

Third, proceed to take a picture of every single item that is for sale - and be sure to prominently feature the price tags in every picture that you take.

After about 10-15 minutes of this, even the most "aware" company will politely ask you to leave - if you're lucky. If you're not so lucky, they'll grab your arms and jacket and throw you out, possibly damaging your preciously cool smartphone in the process.

Why? Because, as Paul Brocklehurst noted in this Google+ thread, it is legally permissible for a business to set reasonable rules on its own property. If a business says "no photography," then no photography.

Of course, there's a potential difference between what is legally binding and what is good business. One could argue that while a private business has the legal right to restrict photography, it is not necessarily a good business practice. Customers would never patronize (or matronize) such an "old school" business.

But does any business - or any person - behave as transparently as we picture-takers would like? Take Jennifer Ringley. Even before she disappeared from the Internet, did the JenniCam woman ever post her tax returns? And don't forget how Julian Assange reacted when Swedish police reports about his alleged crimes were...um...leaked.

So next time you're taking pictures in a WalMart or Whole Foods, don't be surprised if the store manager follows you home...and starts taking pictures in your house. Your Facebook friends will love to see all the McDonald's wrappers...
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