Brands need customer loyalty to compete, but they should be careful with their use of social media content to avoid 'creepy' practices.

Because big data is today’s buzz word, it might be hard to imagine that consumers draw a hard line when it comes to internet privacy. Both B2C and B2B businesses can generate leads by asking for visitors’ contact data in exchange for free digital content, whether that entails research documents or exclusive discounts through loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Report from Maritz Loyalty reveals that internet users like to participate in rewards programs, but they think some brands ask for too much.

Internet users joined 7.4 loyalty programs on average in 2012, and 80 percent said the groups are worth their while. Perhaps more importantly, 57 percent said their membership influenced their purchasing decisions.

However, marketers must walk a fine line with their use of participants’ data, the study found. Forty percent of consumers said they find it creepy when companies request personal information when they opt in for targeted promotions, while another 44 percent think brands cross the line when they ask for data about household or personal income to qualify for benefits and rewards.

Marketers must also toe the line when it comes to social media content. Four in 10 respondents say they don’t appreciate when brands they follow or Like want to review personal status updates and photos as criteria for special offers.

44 percent think brands cross the line when they ask for data about household or personal income to qualify for benefits and rewards.

For instance, a company might determine which of its followers are eligible for a promotional contest targeting homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area by evaluating the content they post to social networks.

Rather than digging too deep into target audiences’ private affairs, Brafton suggests loyalty and conversions are actually driven by positive experiences. Reviews of great brand interactions are equally effective for 75 percent of buyers surveyed by analytics firm Analytics Partners.

Online and social loyalty programs might be most effective when brands engage their target audiences without offering them discounted prices. A downloadable coupon can spur Likes, Favorites and Follows, but a request for consumers’ personal stories, opinions or photos might yield valuable insights and additional conversions.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.