Data ownership issues will challenge brands’ use of social media data


Padlock (Photo credit: zebble)

In 2013 we expect to see more brands begin to explore the potential that social media data has for them – moving from using social media tools to communicate and engage with their audience to getting actionable insight from the conversations and data that the audience is sharing. Dealing with large data sets is not new for many brands – credit card, consumer, purchase and point-of-sale data sets have long been used to help inform business decisions. But social media data brings with it new opportunities, and also new challenges.

The opportunities of social media data include the ability to understand behaviours (not just purchases) and to explore what people say as much as what they do. It also allows many brands to gain a fuller understanding of their audiences and to begin to segment them in ways you might not have thought possible. Sensible use of this data can also help brands to being to predict behaviour and to better tailor what they offer to consumers (and how they offer it to them).

But with social media data also come some challenges – namely who owns this data and, perhaps more importantly, why the brand has the right to play with it.

There are a set of more legal data ownership issues depending on where the data is and the terms and conditions of the various social media tools and your relationship with them. But perhaps the bigger, and more important, issues for any brand wanting to use social media data are about earning the right from consumers to use this data.

With other big data sources this right is implicit – using data on purchases people have made in your store or data they have given you at some stage. With social data there is a real challenge that your use of it can look invasive. Does a consumer really want a brand to wish them happy birthday or send them a tailored offer because of something they have worked out by listening to what they are saying on Twitter? There is a real danger that brands will come across as not respecting consumers and the conversations they may think are private.

Except where consumers are actively having a conversation direct with a brand it should be assumed that (rightly or wrongly) they think that their conversations and other data shared in social media is private. They are often not cognisant of the quantity, and indeed the value, of the data they are leaving behind them with every Tweet, Facebook share or comment on a blog. We are all battling with what privacy levels are right for us and even though brands can find and explore much of the data we currently leave behind us, they should be careful of how it is used.

The worst case scenario is that brands begin to use social media data more and more in ways that begin to feel odd, invasive or even threatening to consumers, and as a reaction we become more private. We share less publicly and are more careful about who can see what. Brands using social media data have a real opportunity to drive consumers to be more private than they normally would be if they don’t use it responsibly.

So making the most of social media data will require brands to think carefully about how they earn the right from consumers to use the information they share and the things they say online. Whilst much emphasis will be placed on the complex algorithms and predictive models that need to be developed, as much effort needs to be placed on this and on understanding how they engage consumers online in a way that won’t alienate them and that will allow them to get the real benefits these algorithms and models promise.