By Chris Williams published September 14, 2010

How to Rewrite a Privacy Policy Into a Marketing Advantage

You might be thinking, “Privacy policy? Who cares about that? It’s just something we had to put up because our lawyer said so.”

You can leave it at that, or you can remake your privacy policy into a marketing advantage with a few tweaks.

Privacy Policies Waste Space Now

We put privacy policies on our websites to cover things like:

  • We collect X information;
  • No spamming;
  • Your credit card is safe;
  • Your information is kept in the digital equivalent of a locked safe with a starving Doberman chained to it.

While privacy policies are needed, this information is a given now. Most people don’t care about privacy policies. Most of us just assume that if we give a company information, they’ll protect it.

The Web acts as its own check-and-balance system. If a company was to sell or leak billing information (even accidentally!), someone will find out.

Someone will announce it on a blog.
Thousands of people will see it.
And your customers’ trust will be shattered.

Knowing this, customers don’t tend to think much about privacy policies. They don’t search for them. Most don’t even read them. Which means that a privacy policy languishing on your website is wasted space.

The opportunity exists to remake your privacy policy page, which otherwise is taking up space, into something useful. Something that actually brings value.

Should You Protect Conversations?

Of course a business website should address privacy basics: don’t spam, don’t sell information, etc.

But the old language isn’t enough anymore. It doesn’t even cover Web conversations. IMs, forum posts, blog posts, blog comments…communication that isn’t necessarily ON your website. This isn’t covered by the crusty old text most websites use.

However, they’re all part of your business’ communications. You’re not always the one communicating. But people are talking about your business, and those conversations become part of your message.

You can’t control this anymore. But you can respect this. And when you do, you give yourself a marketing advantage over your competitors by demonstrating that not only do you respect your customers’ privacy, but you respect all of their communications, too.

A New Policy: Identify the People Safeguarding Your Communications

So what should a new privacy/communications “policy” focus on? What would differentiate it from the old version?

Think of it this way. Customers assume you protect their information. Take the next step and wed privacy protection to online communication. Who do you have on LinkedIn? Twitter? Who runs your social media campaigns?

They’re already involved with customer information. So make them into listening posts.

The new policy should say something like this:
“Not only do we protect your information (and this is how)…but here’s the person who does it.”

But why link privacy on your own site to communications about your company across the entire Web? Didn’t I just say that there’s no real control of a company’s message on the Web?

Yep. But, acknowledging this and identifying a specific person who will be on guard for your customers’ privacy concerns creates a strong impression about how far you are willing to go to protect your customers.

You’re saying, “This is who takes care of privacy concerns. And since they’re on X social network, you can check in with them whenever you want.”

Your customers will think, “Wow! Talk about sticking your neck out. They must take extra precautions.”

It shows a huge dose of confidence in your product and your practices, and respect for your customers. You respect their information AND what they have to say online. You’re putting a name and a face out there for your customers to see and even call if there’s a problem.

Privacy + Social Media Respect = Communications Hub

So, to recap.

  1. Toss out old content on privacy policy page.
  2. Replace with new, two-part policy:
    1. Protection basics (we collect X information, this is how we use it, no spamming).
    2. This is the person(s) responsible for handling online communications, and how you can talk with him/her.

Last thing: take the final step and point out your new comprehensive approach to privacy in your future marketing communications.

Your new policy will need a new title. Something more marketing-friendly than “privacy policy.” Here’s a couple of page titles you could try:

  • Customer Communications Hub
  • Customer Information Policy
  • Open Communications Policy
  • Privacy Safeguards

(Got another idea? Leave a comment and let’s all try it on.)

“But wait!” you might think. “We don’t use social media. We don’t even like it.”

If you’re a company with a privacy policy, you can transform it into a communications hub — even if you don’t use social media.

Example Policy

Here’s a short example. Feel free to use this yourself (just email me first).

XYZ CORP Customer Information Policy

XYZ Corp. collects this information from our customers:

  • Full Name and Contact Information
  • Email Address
  • Credit Card Information (for purchases only)

Your information is never sold, traded or given to any other party unless needed to complete your transactions.

We’re in compliance with the California Online Privacy Protection Act (California’s privacy laws are located here if you want to review them).

Our Privacy Contact is Michael Trust, Head of Customer Communications. Michael takes care of all privacy concerns our customers have. Email him at michael@xyzcorp.com for any issues or questions.

Michael is also in charge of our social media conversations. So if you want to talk with him about XYZ, follow him at these accounts:

Twitter – @michaeltrustXYZ
LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/XYZCorp
Facebook – www.facebook.com/XYZCorp (our Facebook Page)

Conclusion

I’m not a lawyer. Check with your legal department if you want to trade up on your privacy policy. They may want to add a few lines. You’ll still have a policy you can show to customers, and one you’ll get some marketing value out of, too.

What do you think?

Author: Chris Williams

Chris is a freelance Web writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whenever a project or shiny object isn't distracting him, Chris blogs about Web writing, content marketing and (occasionally) SEO at blue-ferret.com. If you're in any creative industry, follow his heavily-satirical "Copywriter's Internal Monologue" tweet series at @blueferret.

Other posts by Chris Williams

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Chris,

    I like this post for two reasons, 1) Anytime we can reclaim precious real estate in our marketing communication is a wonderful thing. You’re absolutely right, why not make that dead space work for us? 2) Companies that think outside the box interest me. When I see a creative idea in labeling or doing something with the mundane privacy policy, it makes me think they must have a lot of interesting things going on. I want to find out more about them.

    Now you’ve got me thinking. Thanks!

  • http://www.blue-ferret.com/ BlueFerret

    Great! Thanks Sarah. I always like helping people charge up their brains. I agree with both points, particularly 2. Mundane messaging is way too easy. And when readership suffers from it, people often miss it as the source of the problem. You’re either planning to put your audience to sleep or wake them up. Which will it be?

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    It is a common way to increase conversion rates on a form to put “We respect your privacy” where the word “privacy” is a link. I wonder if “We treat your information with respect” has a positive impact as well. This is a big deal.

    All good marketers are using analytics, which places cookies on a visitor’s system and tracks their behavior. If we use any ads, we drop cookies, and this data goes off to a third party. Do we really respect their privacy?

    • http://www.blue-ferret.com/ BlueFerret

      Brian,

      That’s a good question. I’ve seen the phrase “We treat your information with respect” in a few places, but mentioning privacy is much more prevalent. With all the information research we do nowadays – almost all of which IS respectful – maybe your phrasing is more appropriate.