Brands’ Best Social Strategy May Be ‘Don’t Speak Until Spoken To’

Today “social” brands must maintain a delicate balance between customer service and digital privacy: the public wants brands to respond to us when we make direct complaints via social media, but we don’t want them “listening in” while we talk about them on the same networks. Confused? These are the results of a new survey released by social intelligence company NetBase.

The survey, conducted by the J.D. Power Panel, found that, while 51% of consumers want to talk about companies without being listened to, 58% want companies to respond to their complaints on social media. That is some seriously conflicting information for brands to go on!

According to Altimeter Group, 42% of companies consider social media listening one of their top three priorities for 2013. But before brands push ahead with related strategies, they may want to consider the following findings:

  • 32% of consumers of all ages and 38% of Millennials (18-24-year-olds) have no idea that companies are “listening” to what they say in social media.
  • 43% of consumers think listening online intrudes on privacy, even though this is “social” media. Boomers put up the biggest fight (36% said they don’t want brands listening to what they say about brands online), while only 17% of Millennials said the same).
  • At least 20% of each age group (and 25% of 18-24-year-olds) don’t yet know how they feel about brands listening.
  • Nevertheless, 48% say companies should listen in order to improve products and nearly 58% want companies to respond directly to complaints.

Lisa Joy Rosner, CMO of NetBase, emphasizes the potential importance of this information to brands’ successful use of social media, writing in a release that “The companies that take the time to understand what customers are saying, and engage in a way that considers context and builds relationships, are the ones that will benefit from social listening and engagement.”

In other words, if brands are going to listen in on consumer chatter, they should make clear that their primary reason for doing so is to provide the best possible product/service/etc., to their valued customers. At the same time, companies may want to wait until customers reach out to them directly with a complaint or question before interacting or responding. Otherwise they risk coming across as a little creepy.

We’re curious: how do PR pros out there utilize social media “listening”? Do these survey results reflect your experiences, or do you use an altogether different strategy?

Also: for those interested in learning more about this survey, download the corresponding  e-book “Social Listening vs. Digital Privacy, a Consumer Study: Your Practical Guide for How to Engage Consumers Based on Their Attitude Toward Privacy” or view the related infographic and slides.

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