According to Altimeter, 42% of businesses in the US are prioritising Social Media Listening in 2013 – putting real focus on how they sift through and learn from the conversations in social media. But a recent study of US consumers found that 51% of them do not want brands to be listening to what they say online. As a greater emphasis is placed on social media listening and big data, the tensions with consumer privacy will also rise.

The report, by Netbase, is based on a survey of 1,062 US consumers and highlights the challenges brands will face as they increasingly listen to and act on conversations in social media.

  • Most consumers (68%) realise that brands are listening to what they say online
  • Just over half (51%) want to be able to talk to their friends and contact in social media without being listened to in this way; 43% would go further, saying that being listened to is an invasion of their privacy
  • Finally, 64% of consumers only want companies to respond when they are directly spoken to

These numbers are confusing and difficult to interpret, and when you add in the data about what consumers do think brands should do in social media they become more so:

  • 48% of consumers say that brands should listen in order to improve products
  • 58% say that brands should respond to negative comments online

The numbers are all over the place so what can we learn from this?

The data is confusing which may be a result of poor research, or indeed may (also?) reflect the fact that understanding of social media listening is confused for consumers. That brands can listen in to conversations they are having with friends and contacts online can feel intrusive, but when the potential benefits of this are explained, more consumers are willing to accept this.

This is probably the best way to understand this data and to begin to understand how consumers will react to social media listening: they do not like it, but they like the benefits that they may get from brands listening to them. So for listening to be really effective, brands will have to make sure they have worked out the consumer value proposition before people make it more difficult for them to access their conversations online.


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