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Everyone is anxious about issues surrounding data transparency, privacy and how it can complicate marketers’ relationships with consumers.

During Internet Week 2013 in New York, Cardinal Path hosted the “Unleashing the Power of Data” Summit with Google, providing attendees a riveting conversation between some of the top minds in digital analytics.

When the issue of privacy came up there were many differing views about how social media is fueling the blurring of lines on privacy under the guise of understanding customer sentiment and driving engagement.

Cardinal Path CEO Andrew Swinand told the crowd, “As consumers more closely guard their privacy, it becomes more incumbent on marketers to create the value exchange that will make customers want to opt-in to share their data…it changes the marketing experience to move away from messages to experiences.”

Just a few moments later, in a perfectly public social counterpoint, Claire Willett, Marketing & Development Manager at Riparian Data, Tweeted back, “Millennials want companies to have their data so they get more targeted messaging,” says @swinand. Er, not this millennial. #iwny

Claire Willett on trading privacy for engagement

So goes the back-and-forth about engagement and privacy. As I write this, the tech press is aflutter with side-by-side stories about Facebook rolling out Graph Search to all users and breathless stories about how to lock down your FB privacy settings so your old photos don’t get trolled.

How can CMOs approach this high touch/touchy topic?

As always, we must let the customer be our guide.

With as potentially volatile an issue as this, trust me, it’s far too easy to go down the rabbit hole of taking into account every opinion out on the web about privacy and marketing practices.

But even many of the wonderfully informed articles about how to navigate this terrain lose sight of the one advantage CMOs have when making decisions about how deeply to engage with potential customers: in-depth knowledge of their likes and dislikes.

As CMOs it is our job to understand our customers — and, by extension, our potential customers. We, better than anyone else, should have our fingers on the pulse of exactly how current and target customers interact with our digital marketing and social outreach efforts.

Though we should pay attention to other marketers’ missteps and others’ customer behaviors, the ultimate litmus test for developing new ways to engage socially is how your past campaigns and outreach programs have worked.

Have your customers utilized your e-commerce sharing capabilities (Amazon has this down pat) or left your social sharing tools for dead? Are they super active on one social platform over another — and are you intimately familiar with the culture of those platforms and what is “socially acceptable” on them?

If you don’t know the answers to these fundamental questions, it’s time for you to do the ultimate in engaging your audience: get your transparency bona fides on and just come out and ask them how much they’re willing to share with you.