The challenges to brands of using the data consumers share in social media

Padlock & Chain

Padlock & Chain (Photo credit: spodzone)

People are sharing increasing amounts of personal information online and via social media; some of this information is shared knowingly but other is information we leave behind us without necessarily realising.

This information from consumers is fueling many of the big data conversations that brands are having. But with this growing ‘data exhaust’ come challenges. Notably challenges of privacy and trust – how do brands work with this data in a way that doesn’t alienate their consumers, and what how might consumers react if they do.

We see two main areas of challenge for brands working with this data:

1. People are becoming more wary of intrusive online behaviour by brands

  • There’s a powerful “personal data economy” out there, which has the potential to grow to nearly €1tn annually in 2020 according to the Financial Times, quoting BCG research.
  • This is helping create a new breed of “invisible cyberazzi” – individuals and organisations tracking, amassing and selling people’s data – making consumers increasingly uneasy (e.g. TRUSTe’s 2011 study results).

2. Consumers are becoming more aware of the value of their personal information

  • As highlighted by Facebook’s IPO last year, and there is now a new market for “data locker / vault” services (e.g. Personal, Qiy, etc., and explored in last week’s Financial Times).
  • Subscribers can store their data in their locker / vault and only grant access to specifically chosen and approved organisations and companies.
  • Access may be granted for free (e.g. to friends, family, or trusted organisations such as someone’s own bank), or for a fee (e.g. to marketers and advertisers).
  • The UK government’s Midata Programme is also highlighting the value of people’s data. Through it consumer groups and businesses (including Visa, MasterCard, Three, Lloyds TSB, RBS, British Gas, EDF Energy) are enabling consumers access to the data created through their banking, internet purchases, utility use etc., in order to help them make more informed purchasing decisions.

So what could happen if people start locking their data away en masse? Companies may be forced to start paying people directly for their data, which for advertisers and marketers is potentially more likely to be accurate when acquired this way.