Brands need consumers’ permission to capitalise on social media data

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December is often a time for predictions, and the most consistent predictions for social media in 2013 concern data. Whether it’s called big data or social media data, brands are expected to make more use of the opportunities this data holds in the coming year.

And the opportunities are there for brands to explore – from better targeting of new customers to more personalised experiences for existing customers. The ability to structure unstructured data from social media, and combine it with a brand’s own data, offers huge potential for many brands.

But realising this potential is not easy – understanding and structuring data from social media sources is complicated. How do you understand what people are really talking about? How do you isolate discussions about your brand, competitors or your market? How do you match discussions with your internal customer data? And how do you use all of this to inform actions your business can take?

But for all the talk about and focus on improving the models and algorithms used to interrogate and understand this data, it is important that we don’t forget the consumer. The best models in the world will fail if we don’t win the consumer’s permission to use their data. If 2013 will be the year brands start to explore how they can use social data they are, at the same time, going to have to address changes in attitudes to privacy, and how they engage their customers online.

As consumers we are getting more nuanced in our approach to privacy in social media; thinking more about what we are sharing with whom. Whereas a couple of years ago we might have shared details of our plans and contacts on a Facebook wall, these are now sent mostly in private messages. We are thinking more about who sees the photos we share and the things we say. In short, as we use more social media tools in more parts of our lives we are learning more about what we are happy to share with whom and what we are not.

For brands to really capitalise on social media data they are going to need to get consumers’ permission to play – to access their Facebook page or other conversations they restrict access to. And with this access brings responsibility – how you use the data and how you articulate the benefit to the consumer; to get their permission to play you need a clear value proposition of why they would give you access in the first place.

So if 2013 is the year of big data and social media data then alongside incremental improvements to mathematical models, brands need to give equal thought to how they seek permission from consumers to access their social data in the first place. And that will not always be an easy one to crack.


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