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Prior negative experiences with social media increases students’ privacy concerns

BOONE—There is no doubt that college students’ lives revolve around social media. However, are they worried about disclosing too much information about themselves when they post status or profile updates or “like” a product or business? If so, would they take some action to protect their online privacy?

Dr. Hongwei “Chris” Yang, an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Communication, has researched how negative experiences of online disclosure has affected young consumers’ online privacy concerns and their intent to protect online privacy, and use of social media.

His research, “Young American Consumers’ Prior Negative Experience of Online Disclosure, Online Privacy Concerns, and Behavioral Intent of Privacy Protection,” has been published in the Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, volume 25, pages 179-202.

After surveying 403 students at a mid-sized Southeastern university, Yang found that the students’ prior negative experiences following online disclosure of personal information led them to significantly increase their online privacy concerns, reduce their use of social media, and spurred them to falsify or refuse to provide personal information.

As a result of his findings, Yang suggests that marketing managers “address consumers’ online privacy concerns and handle personal data provided to them through social media responsibly to ensure the effectiveness of precise and targeted marketing in social media” to avoid poor customer relationship.

The suggestion carries even more weight when you consider that marketers spent just over $2 billion advertising on Facebook in the U.S. and more than $4 billion worldwide in 2011.

“The success of social networking websites depends on subscribers’ voluntary disclosure of enormous amounts of personal information,” Yang said. “Advertisers are very interested in what you discuss on Facebook, especially your personal and lifestyle information.”

Those posts help marketers learn about a person’s product purchases and preferences, and the product recommendations they make to friends. “They want that type of information so that they feed relevant ads to you,” he said.

College students surveyed admitted that if they were concerned about use of their personal information, they might refuse to provide that information to some social media websites, Yang said. They also were more likely to spread their concerns through negative electronic word of mouth (eWOM), ask that their information be removed from a site or complain to the online company.

“That’s kind of a warning to marketers. You have to be careful not to mishandle consumers online personal information,” Yang said. “You have to address their online privacy concerns; otherwise they will refuse to provide you accurate personal information.”

Yang says social media outlets should be good listeners. “If they receive a lot of complaints from young people, they have to be, and do something to address the grievances or they will suffer,” he said.

He suggests that further research of the college-age populations use of and trust in social media be conducted to gain further insight into that demographic.

Yang’s paper is available online at https://sites.google.com/site/chrishongweiyang/research.

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