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Brand Social Outreach Must Walk a Fine Line

Consumers are sensitive to how much companies listen and respond to them online

Most US internet users across all age groups are aware that businesses frequently listen to what they say online. According to a December 2012 study conducted by J.D. Power & Associates for NetBase, US internet users between the ages of 45 to 54 were most cognizant of this phenomenon, at 72% of respondents. Millennials between 18 to 24 years old were least likely to be aware of companies listening in, although still over three in five knew this went on.

What’s more, most consumers reported that they actually wanted companies to listen to online conversations. A majority of respondents in every age group except for those 55 and over reported this preference.

Consumers may want to catch the ear of brands online, but they have decidedly mixed expectations for what kind of engagement is appropriate. This means companies must tread carefully.

It’s important to remember that although most customers are on board with corporate social listening, significant numbers still view any kind of listening as invasive. According to the NetBase study, roughly 40% of consumers under 55 (and 54% of consumers over 55) agreed that “companies that listen online are intruding on customers.” Even many consumers that are comfortable with social listening in the abstract believe that some conversations should be kept private.

The golden rule of engaging consumer sentiment appears to be “speak when spoken to.” Substantial majorities of consumers under 55 agreed that companies should respond to complaints posted in social media. But the survey option that elicited the broadest agreement was “companies should only respond to online comments made directly to them,” for instance, via social media. Most consumers, in other words, appreciate attentive listening and ready responses—but on their own terms.

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Check out today’s other articles, “Small Businesses Devote More Resources to Websites, Social” and “In Singapore, Mobile Picks Up More Paid Search Clicks

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