One of the major ethical issues in social media includes the proper use of consumers’ personal data. This begins with how social networks inform users of what their privacy levels are, how the settings can be customized and how much of their information is actually deemed “public.” A common ethical concern social media data being used for brand marketing; targeting audiences based on relevant associations or unethically through what can be considered intrusive data mining.
A positive to brand targeting through social media can be the consumer receiving messaging that they actually do want. Social media allows marketers to go beyond the normal demographics and psychographics data and access exactly what a consumer likes, is interested in, what they are affiliated with and how they interact/engage with people and products. They truly can understand who their audience is with such specific information.
Social media enables marketers to have a direct channel for their brand to reach the proper target audience. Engagement with the consumer becomes interactive; no longer “top-down” message sending. Brands can listen to their consumers and return information and products through campaigns that are entertaining, caused-based or even political. Social media allows for the traditional communication process to be reversed; creating a win-win for both consumers and the brand. Consumers are able to determine their marketing experience which increases their ability to receive desired messages. Marketers are able to build brand loyalty with the goal to increase sales.
However, major concerns come into play when consumers feel like their privacy has been breached by social media. Internet users can opt-in or opt-out of behavioral targeting on legitimate sites; however some companies websites utilize malicious software to collect sensitive data without the user knowing. Consumers can be exposed to spam, data tracking, malware, identity theft and defamation.
Most browsers can block third-party cookies with privacy protection programs to increase security and reduce tracking by marketers. The battle over consumer privacy issues is strong and websites are obligated to give users the option to revoke contextual and behavioral targeting. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed a “do not track” mechanism to allow internet users to opt-out of behavioral targeting in 2011. However, some sites attach malware to consumers’ computers. Malware is an application or add-on to software that alters system settings. It spawns pop-ups, inserts advertisements and mask activities by providing services such as weather reports. Malware makes users vulnerable to identity theft of social security numbers, credit cards and more. It is hard for users to remove; it requires anti-virus programs and sometimes more advanced treatments which non computer-savvy individuals will have difficulty completing.
Social media networks are known as public sites where people can share freely. They have comment boxes, wall posts, “like” buttons and widgets all which are trackable. These allow marketers to monitor and analyze consumer behavior on social media. Brands can use that information to adjust behavioral and contextual targeting as well as encourage word-of-mouth and viral advertising.
Privacy issues will arise in his new-age of consumers willing to share and post brand-related content. Companies that use social media marketing strategies must be aware of their increased exposure to litigation on social media channels. In conclusion, I think it is ethical to use social media to target advertising as long as it is done legally and at the consent of a willing consumer.