​A new study shows that consumers understand social listening happens all of the time, but they aren't sure that its appropriate.

​Social media marketing has reached a point in its relatively young life that its evolution could advance in several directions. For example, social care has become standard practice for many organizations. Internet users also treat the networks as sounding boards, turning to Facebook or Twitter to complain about services, asking companies for help and recommending organizations to their personal networks. It’s a candid way for brands to get feedback about operations or insights on website content that can answer user queries.

Most consumers are aware that brands use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ for marketing insights. Marketers listen to conversations on the web to gauge brand awareness and trending topics, using these key insights to fuel internet marketing campaigns. However, some consumers feel social listening is invasive, so how can brands respond to consumers’ needs online without pushing them away in the process? The answer might be, “Speak only when spoken to.”

In a study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates for Netbase, the majority of consumers between the ages of 18 and 54 wanted companies to listen to online conversations to better fulfill their needs. Consumers want their favorite brands to pay attention to web chatter and factor in feedback when developing newer products or services, but they also have mixed emotions about what type of engagement is appropriate online.

Forty percent of consumers under the age of 55 feel companies that listen online intrude on their customers’ privacy. So, how should marketers handle the expectations of internet users without offending them? When social listening, Page managers should only engage in conversation on their profiles when the comments are directed toward the company. It might seem beneficial for a company to jump in on a conversation they come across online, but users may prefer the brand to remain silent, until the discussion requires an expert answer.

Content marketers should still publish social media content to their accounts, but don’t weigh in too much on the conversations that aren’t directed at a brand. Listen to what’s being said to inform future posts and share answers – but don’t​ ​make customers​  uncomfortable by jumping into conversations that don’t include @mentions.

Ted Karczewski is an Executive Communications Associate at Brafton. He works to develop his own voice and apply his passions to the evolving world of SEO and content marketing, but he doesn't shy away from writing for fun. After graduating from Suffolk University, Ted used his Communications degree to test out Sports Journalism before Marketing at Brafton.