Big data is watching you!

by Stijn Verbruggen - December 17, 2014


EyeForget about paranoia, it’s not just in your mind, you ARE being followed. And not just on Twitter. Governments and companies are watching your every online move. Luckily for you, 99% of what you do is completely irrelevant, so you can totally continue to post food pictures and cat videos (just don’t bother us with them). But what is that 1% and what are these organizations doing with this snippet of information?

1% is a helluva lot!

A very small amount of what you say or do can be relevant to some organization. And for those organizations it takes time, effort and money to find these relevant bits of information. That’s why most of the marketers choose to segment you, and in a segment you’ll stay pretty anonymous. You’re just a part of an age group or share the same interest with thousands of others. But this tiny bit of information can cause this company to target you with their ads. Maybe you’ll have some more percentages that can be relevant to other companies or organizations.

For example: if you tweet about how you like your gin and tonic with some cucumber, this might be interesting for a gin-producing company. But if your next Instagram post shows how you grew this cucumber in your own garden it is less relevant to the gin-producer but might be relevant for a garden centre.

Don’t post about bombs or beer

For governmental organizations it can be very useful to scan social media. Especially law enforcement is already using social media to optimize their way of working.

The Belgian police have recently announced they will monitor Facebook and Twitter to see if the location of their alcohol control has been shared. They will move once they see people are sharing their location to much.

Another example is from Dallas, where the police have set up extensive listening to see if there were any terrorist threats. Terrorists are believed to be eager users of social media and so specials units are being formed to look for suspicious activity.

What kind of company are you in?

Of course companies are interested in what you are sharing. You are a consumer and you could buy their products. That’s why tools have been developed to monitor your every word. A social listening tool looks for keywords that could be interesting for the marketer that uses the tool.

If your company is already using a social listening tool or is thinking about it, it can be useful to define what you want to do with the results. Based on the goal you have set yourself, you can choose a different tool and a different approach to use this tool.

I have defined three different types of companies based on how they use the results of their listening exercise.

The silent listeners: they scan the social web to get consumer insights to feed to their research and development department.

The stalkers: if you tweet about home-made cookies, they will reply with an ad about the perfect coffee to have with the cookie.

The improvers: they will make your life easier by suggesting you the best way to fix the problem you just posted on some ambiguous forum.


The bottom line is, you shouldn’t be too worried about big brother watching you.
This is why:

  • It takes too much time, effort and money to dig into every single thing you do online.

  • There is an overload of information to be processed by organizations that are listening to what’s being said on social media.

  • Most of the companies use the information they find just to target you with ads, you still have the option to ignore those.

  • Some organizations also use this data to improve your life or to keep you safe.

Stijn Verbruggen

Social & Content Marketeer