JD Power and Associates and Netbase have released a new digital marketing report that focuses on the consumer and their understanding of social listening.

The report “Social Listening vs Digital Privacy: A Consumer Study” was conducted in December in 2012 with 1,062 U.S. consumers,18 years old and up. It looked at customer awareness of social listening, their thoughts on this practice and how businesses can utilize these tools. Results were divided into five separate age groups: 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 45 and 45 to 55 and 55+.

Consumer, Meet Social Listening

In the onset of social media, businesses are given chance to connect with and interact with customers in an efficient, almost instantaneous manner. For example, on Twitter a business can monitor a particular hashtag to see what consumers are saying, even if the tweet isn't directed toward the company’s official Twitter account. Then, based on what is being said a company can make changes to their marketing platform and/or products.

Despite this being a common practice and social networking being the main reason for internet usage (90 percent of 18 to 24 year olds use the internet for social reasons, along with 70 percent of 55+ users and 85 percent for those in the 35 to 44 category), many users don’t know what social listening is or even that businesses monitor social channels. Only about 30 percent of users in each of the age categories know that companies are listening to their online conversations.

These results suggest that while many people use social media themselves, they don’t know or realize that businesses use it for more than just product promotion.

While many of those in the survey didn't know that social listening exists, they do support the idea, about half in each age category -- but only to a certain degree. For example 60 percent of the 25 to 34 year old respondents and 40 percent of the 55+ said they that they liked the idea of social listening.

While many customers appear uneducated about social listening and how it works, this ignorance can be seen as beneficial to a business' marketing approach, as they can engage customers and educate them on how social listening works, what type of information they look for and explain how social listening not only helps a company, but the customer as well.

The 'Big Brother' Syndrome

Social listening might be interesting to respondents, but it's not fully supported. Nearly 50 percent of all respondents said that a company should be responding to complaints and conversations to improve their products and services, however, the same amount found social listening to be an intrusion of privacy.

Netbase Social Listening Survey

Netbase Social Listening Survey

This type of discrepancy can prove to be problematic as companies won’t know how to engage with customers, for a fear of appearing overbearing and intrusive.

"Consumers in social media want it both ways” says the report. "They don’t want companies listening in on their online conversations, but they expect them to respond to their needs."

JD Power and Associates and Netbase have a solution though: understand, consider, engage and demonstrate.

In order to properly engage customers, marketers have to understand what people are saying about their product and the industry. When looking at what customers are saying, a company needs to be able to distinguish between a comment they should respond to and one they shouldn't. For example, if a customer is merely stating they don’t like a particular item, a company doesn't need to respond to the comment unless it was intentionally directed at them. If a company responded to something that wasn't directed at them it can seem as if they are watching a person's every move.

That being said, a business should always respond to customer concerns because, according to the report, ”In the e-commerce world, consumers have shown that they are willing to give up some level of privacy in exchange for better service. Likewise, proactive service that clearly benefits them is the best way to alleviate their privacy concerns." A business can then demonstrate that they are there to build a good relationship with their customers, not to monitor every post, comment, share or like.

Overall, marketers have to first educate on their social listening and marketing approach before they can and properly interact with their customers.