Wednesday, February 13, 2013


In his LinkedIn article, on "social media listening" Brian Solis points out a somewhat scattered public opinion of the idea that companies are paying attention to what people are saying on social media.

"Considering that 58% want you to engage in times of need, 42% wish to hear from you in good times, 64% only want you listening to be at their beck and call, and half of all consumers don’t want you listening at all, what are you to do?"
Are Businesses Becoming the New Big Brother in Social Media?
While there is an amusing infographic to go with the article, I feel that Solis misses a bet by not doing more to actually engage with his title. While many people like to feel that they are being listened to and their concerns taken seriously, they don't like the feeling of being spied upon for someone else's benefit. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother was not watching so that it could respond to Winston or Julia's needs or problems. Big Brother was part of (and possibly the leader of) an oppressive and literally omnipresent surveillance state that persecuted individualism and free thought in the name of retaining, at all costs, the Party's control over the people of Oceania. As the concept and term "Big Brother" has moved into the collective culture, it has become somewhat watered down, but its origins are still worth remembering.

There is a mistrust of Big Business in the United States, and it shouldn't be surprising that this mistrust can manifest itself as a suspicion that when companies listen in on social media, they are doing so out of a desire to find information that they can use to benefit themselves at the direct expense of either the speaker or the public at large or because they wish to target and discredit those who would publicly speak ill of them or make them look bad (or in the case of employees, fire them). Contrasting this against the idea that people are okay with companies listening in order to proactively deal with problems hardly strikes me as a "double standard." In many relationships between businesses and the public, businesses hold most of the cards; doing business with many companies means agreeing to a set of rules that have been specifically written with an eye to making sure that the company is protected. In such a one-sided arrangement many people feel vulnerable and the thought that the companies are monitoring everything said about them heightens that sense of vulnerability.

Given that businesses are no more a monolithic entity than the public, this leaves them with something of a problem, as every high-profile case in which a company goes after someone after unmasking a hostile blogger or following up on an unflattering tweet can make everyone a little more suspect. But if businesses are going to be active listeners in the social media landscape, they're going to have to understand concerns over Big Brother, and be willing to put in the work to address them.

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