Brands, don't invade your customers' privacy – attention has to be earned

Justin Pearse is MD of The Drum's content marketing agency The Drum Works and is a member ofBIMA's executive committee. He is a former editor of New Media Age.

Happy 10th birthday Facebook. In just 10 short years Facebook has changed the way a large proportion of the global population live their daily lives. Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been in how people view their private lives. Indeed, if they expect their lives to be private at all.

In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously announced that privacy was no longer a “social norm”. He believed that the phenomenal rise of social media had caused a systemic behavioural change that meant people were happy to share ever increasing amounts of information with ever more people.

It’s hard to argue with the basics of this arguement and there are acres of academic discussion about the effects of digital media on people’s propensity to share.

The problem is when brands step into this argument, believing the likes of last year’s national press headline: “Three-quarters of Britons don’t care about privacy."

Or another recent report, finding that 82 per cent of consumers were happy to share information with a brand.

The national press is constantly full of stories about people’s “over sharing” on social media. Every media touch point is pregnant with opportunities to interact – sharing is considered such natural behaviour that why should any brand believe it doesn’t have a right to become intimately involved in people’s lives?

If consumers are so happy to share, so unconcerned about privacy, all a brand has to do is jump in. Ethically of course, not spamming, keeping to the letter of the data laws and only stepping occasionally into those grey areas, but immediately and wholeheartedly.

And if they want a quick hit, a one off encounter, why not? But for any brand that wants to build a real relationship with consumers, one, as in the real world, based on mutual respect, it’s far better to act as though we are living in a world pre-social media. Where people’s attention has to be earned before slowly building a relationship. One based on authenticity rather than a presumption of intimacy.

Because while people’s real world relationships with their friends and families may be being drastically altered by social media, the boundaries that exist between them and the commercial organisations that want a place in their life remain sacred.

A report out last week highlights just how different these relationships are. The TRUSTe Consumer Confidence Index found over 60 per cent of people more concerned about online privacy than last year. And 60 per cent of them cited companies sharing their personal data as the reason for this worry, with 54 per cent saying they were worried about companies tracking them online to serve them ads and content.

Of course the reports will continue to pour out, supporting one position or another. The only way a brand can ensure a safe course of action is to treat their customers as they always would have before the rise of social media.

People’s lives are private until you receive the honour of being let into them. When you do, keep their interests far ahead of yours. Social media may have changed how they interact with each other; it certainly hasn’t altered the fundamentals of real relationships.

Justin Pearse is head of marketing at Bite

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