Brands’ data practices should reflect their social duty of care

Penney Soon, senior director of social media, Hearts & Science
Penney Soon, senior director of social media, Hearts & Science

Social duty of care goes way beyond advertising.

After the last year, brands are more aware than ever of their “social duty of care,” or responsibility to do good and show concern for people and the world. 

This isn’t a new concept. There’s ample research that proves corporate social responsibility drives impact, whether by renewing employee purpose, boosting customer acquisition or deepening brand loyalty.

But social duty of care isn’t just manifested in our external messaging. Brands should consider social responsibility as part of the larger infrastructure that underpins their marketing efforts. 

This requires being more deliberate about investments, directing money towards media partners that have an equal respect for user choices. Platforms and publishers should also lean into ethical design, using non-biased algorithms to target ads and content, and put in place governance to curb abusive behavior.

As giving users a voice in how their data is collected and used becomes the norm, brands that don’t handle consumer data carefully will lose trust. The good news is that brands hold the purse strings, and working with like-minded agency partners, they can play an outsized role in influencing more equitable technology and sophisticated safety mechanisms. 

Getting social duty of care right won’t happen overnight. It requires continuous evaluation, reflection and adaptation. Here are three places to start:

1. Define your data ethos

Develop a scalable data map to categorize the types of data you collect from customers and what you use for targeting. 

Then, set a data ethos for your brand to define the way you aspire to use data. Start by defining social responsibility in the context of data collection and management, and then investigate how you currently use data in advertising. Does the extent of personalization truly provide value, or does it just feel invasive?

2. Evaluate data usage in media buys

It’s important to evaluate the platforms and publishers you’re buying media from. Do they honor and protect your consumer data? If not, consider pulling your spend. Reviewing policies with vendors and platforms is an ongoing process, but being on top of these changes will help you continue to make educated decisions.

Brands should also develop clear, standardized procedures to govern requests for data transfers or removal. Align your agency partners on these protocols to avoid non-compliance and penalties.

3. Create a scorecard for ongoing accountability

Develop a scorecard for messaging, media channels and investment choices, like the one below, to hold your brand accountable to its commitments. 

As global data policies roll out, brands will likely need to evolve their own T&Cs. Communicating these changes via email, website prompts or push notifications is an opportunity to demonstrate commitment, foster transparency and build trust with consumers. 

From a lead generation perspective, it’s worth revisiting whether the information we collect is truly necessary. For example, do people need to provide their home address on a survey or form? If it isn’t used to enhance the product, service or user experience, don’t collect it. 

Social duty of care goes way beyond advertising and external messaging. It encompasses how audiences are treated at every step of the customer journey, and whether the value exchange is open and transparent.

Penney Soon is senior director of social media at Hearts & Science.

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