Social Listening: Consumers Don't Like It and What Your Brand Should Do About It

Patricia Redsicker Principal, WordView Editing

Posted on January 27th 2014

Social Listening: Consumers Don't Like It and What Your Brand Should Do About It
It’s common for companies to listen to conversations on social media. This way, they can understand consumer opinion about brands, products, and services.

 Social Listening: Consumers Don’t Like It and What Your Brand Should Do About ItThe problem is consumers don’t like it.

A 2012 study by JD Power and NetBase shows that 40% of consumers think social listening intrudes on privacy, even though this is “social media.”

False Expectations?

The question is should users even expect to have online privacy in the first place?

Last summer Google basically told a federal court that people who care about privacy should not use their service and as Molly Wood, executive editor at CNET subsequently pointed out:

“Google reads your e-mail, knows what’s in your calendar, looks at your photos, and knows who your friends are, and that’s just via its in-house services. When you include the breadth of its search, Google knows everything about you that’s public information, from your address to all your online profiles, to your marital status and much, much more.”

I think part of the misunderstanding between consumers and marketers is that they look at privacy differently. Marketers spend a lot of time online – researching, studying and trying to understand how vast amounts of online data can be used to improve services.

But consumers aren’t as informed (no disrespect) about online data and how it’s used. Most of the time, they’re just afraid that their personal information is being used for something “covert” and they don’t like it.

But I want to have my cake and eat it too!

What’s interesting is that consumers want it both ways. They don’t necessarily want brands listening to their conversations, but they definitely expect them [brands] to respond if a consumer has a complaint!

consumer opionion about social listening Social Listening: Consumers Don’t Like It and What Your Brand Should Do About It

Consumers have different and often conflicting views on social listening

There is no magic formula to help brands figure out what to do. What’s clear though is that marketers have to act in such a way that consumers are persuaded about the benefits of social listening.

What’s a brand to do…?

At the end of the day it’s all about respecting the customer, always getting their permission and going out of your way to explain why you need specific personal information from them. Here’s what social listening should look like:

  • Don’t just listen; understand the full picture before you respond.
  • Consider the context of online updates and conversations – your response should always satisfy consumers’ expectations.
  • Engage with the intention of delivering mutual value i.e. better experience and incredible customer service.
  • Demonstrate how listening builds relationships, rather than simply ‘intruding’ on consumers’ conversations.

The benefits that come from social listening end up flowing through to consumers as well. Marketers should therefore be bold about educating their customers and explaining how online conversations are used. This not only builds consumer trust, it also alleviates fears based on lack of knowledge.

What do you think? How should marketers behave in order to leverage the benefits of social listening? Please leave your feedback in the comment box below.


Patricia Redsicker

Principal, WordView Editing

Patricia Redsicker is a Marketing Writer and Content Marketing Strategist from Baltimore, MD. She is currently exploring the intersection between healthcare and social media. A huge fan of infographics and visually enticing content, Patricia's blog embodies both content marketing best practices and design. Follow her on Twitter at @predsicker.
See Full Profile >


Posted on January 27th 2014 at 7:18PM

Patricia, this is fascinating! Thanks so much for posting. I particularly found the chart on consumers' conflicting views on online listening really interesting.

It's tough to know sometimes when to reach out to consumers and when to hold off, and every once in a while we see big brands make cringe-worthy attempts at outreach (like T-Mobile and AT&T's Twitter fight over a customer in November: 

I think it's great that brands listen and reach out, but only if they're offering value. And it's critical that brands be "human" when engaging with people; overly salesy or robotic attempts by brands almost always fail.