The global adoption of social platforms has profoundly changed society and business. I won’t talk much about the societal side, one needs only to look at the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the upcoming elections to see the impact of social. On the business side, the way consumers discover and purchase products, and the way companies understand, reach and interact with their customers have all profoundly changed over the last 5 years.
Over 45% of consumers now ask their friends for advice before making a purchase. This has massive implications on everything from a PR strategy to celebrity endorsements. Businesses are racing to understand the conversations that are taking place on social networks about their brand and integrate that insight into product, marketing and sales decisions. I’ve written extensively on how media companies are just starting to integrate that direct consumer insight (see here, here, here). Every client I have spoken to in the last 18 months is working on ways to integrate social data into their business and operational processes.
This widespread use of social data, both on the supply and demand sides, has also kicked up an ongoing debate about on-line privacy and the ways social data can be used. Anyone interested in this space should keep up with The Wall Street Journal’s excellent, and somewhat terrifying, “What They Know” series on digital privacy. The way legal and public opinions solidify around on-line privacy will have major effects on how this data is shared and utilized moving forward.
The latest twist in the debate comes as a New York judge ruled that an Occupy Wall Street protested doesn’t own his own tweets and can’t stop prosecutors from searching his Twitter account – reported here by PaidContent.org “Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. cited a “widely-believed” but “mistaken” notion about online privacy rights and said that search and seizure protections don’t apply because we “do not have a ‘physical’ home on the Internet.’”
Stories like this will lead some to predict a backlash against social media platforms and their inherent “public” nature. However, on the other side, research indicates that more and more mainstream adopters are using social networks and willing to share private information. IBM’s latest Digital Consumer Study found that 75% of 18-64 year olds globally participate in social networks. Across the globe, over 50% of US and UK consumers, 67% of Japanese consumers and more than 90% of Chinese consumers are willing to trade personal information in exchange for access to content, friends or more relevant advertising.
So who owns social data, and more importantly, whom do users perceive as owing that data? I think we will continue to see an evolving discussion on the topic which will have serious impacts for the future of marketing and media.