How Educated Do Consumers Need To Be?

A piece came out yesterday that got me thinking.  The article was a write-up of a study conducted by Harris Interactive for the folks at The Search Agency and you can have a look at the results here.  The highlights are that most consumers have no clue how much of digital works from a business perspective even though they do know how to use the services:

  • 70% of U.S. online adults know how to post to a Facebook wall, but only 54% understand how Facebook makes money
  • More than one-third of U.S. online adults believe search engines sell users’ personal data to marketers
  • Nearly 29% believe that companies pay annual dues for use, while 20% believe that users pay for premium search features

That got me thinking about why that is or isn’t important.  The author of the piece thinks that “it may seem incidental, but a better understanding would produce higher engagement and conversion rates.”  She says this believing that understanding would increase participation.  I’m not so sure.  In fact, it might have just the opposite effect.  Knowing about EdgeRank and how it affects what information passes into your news feed as well as about the plethora of information Facebook has about everyone on the service could bother some folks and scare quite a few others.  Many people don’t understand that the search results they see are skewed (unless they are savvy enough to turn off the personalized results).

Here is a question for you:  do you know how your car works?  What happens when you turn on the ignition?  I can probably answer this for you – you don’t have a clue.  You do know, however, when the car is NOT working.  I think that’s the same with the digital services we use – we don’t need to know how they work as long as we know that they are, in fact, working.  That said, we probably do want to know if our cars are tracking where we’re going and how fast we’re driving (they are, by the way) and I continue to believe that privacy and data collection are big consumer issues that will continue to grow in importance as the details of those activities become more widely known.

What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

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