Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn – we’re at an age where a few targeted Google searches will show quite the background on customers, employees, and potentials. People voluntarily and actively share their personal lives to the public in many ways, but there’s a thin line between useful information to help build your business and creepy stalking.

Big Brother Crosses Lines

The term “Big Brother” is used to describe any oppressive power that monitors the populace. When I use Big Brother throughout this piece, it’s more to describe an action that goes beyond courteous social boundaries.

For example – looking up a potential new-hire’s social media presence during the application process is ok, but continuing to monitor it beyond that starts to get Big Brother-y. Using a tool that tracks your brand’s mentions on social media platforms is one thing, becoming engaged with your customers’ personal lives is quite another.

With many corporations skirting a fine line in aspects of social media, it’s important to understand the difference.

Avoid Becoming Big Brother

It would be nice if everyone had the same line where they started to feel uncomfortable being monitored. Some people get paid by companies like 20/20 Research and Nielsen to give their opinions in surveys for corporations. Other people license their opinions to Facebook and Twitter, where social media monitoring tools allow big data analysis to determine trends.

These social media analytics only look at generic data, without anything being personally identifying. On the whole, this type of monitoring is considered ok, so long as the analysis doesn’t personally identify anyone who chooses not to self-identify.

When monitoring social media profiles for your brand, ask yourself four questions to determine if you’re crossing the line into Big Brother territory:

  1.   Would I feel comfortable if the roles were reversed?
  2.   What am I looking for?
  3.   Are there other ways to find what I’m looking for?
  4.   Am I acting in an official capacity?

Stay Out of It

In general, people do use social media to vent, and there’s nothing wrong with monitoring your brand online. It’s even encouraged to respond when someone posts about your brand, though whether or not the response is well-received depends on a number of factors.

At the end of the day, it’s often best not to know what people are doing in their personal time. Customers are willing to share their opinions, and when they do, be open and willing to work with them. There’s no need, however, to target any customers who had a bad experience or to whom we feel personally attached.

Ready to learn more? Get our Guide to Social Media for Local Business

Brian Penny is a contributor to the Connectivity blog.