Tag Archives: ethics

If I could only pick three conference sessions to go to… #MRMW #MRX

If I can’t be there in person, I’ll certainly be there in spirit. MRMW Asia is sure to be a great event given the line up of speakers and topics in a fascinating city. And though I’d go to every session if I was there, if I could only see three, these are the three that I’d pick.

I’d love to see Frank Kelly’s presentation on the use of mobile devices in different countries. Canada, where I’m from, is known for its multiculturalism but that doesn’t mean I’ve had the opportunity to step into the homes and experience the lives of people who are so different from me. Anytime we can gain a better understanding of the differences between cultures means our research results will be better and more relevant to the right people. Even better, it means that as humans, we’ll have an increased understanding and more empathy for each other. And we all know we need more of that on this planet.

annie mobile

Self portrait via mobile for a facial coding exercise

I’m also thrilled to see that ethics and standards are on the agenda twice, first with a solo session by Mark Michelson and second with a panel moderated by Michelson. As a social media researcher, I see the problems of loose standards and ethics day in and day out. Companies have been charged with deceiving consumers, consumers have been furious over their loss of privacy, and clients have given up on methodologies because multiple vendors have misled them about validity and capabilities. This isn’t good for anyone, and certainly not good for an industry that prides itself on fairness and honesty. I’d love to see Ho, Ooi, Niles, and Foreman take a hard stand for consumer privacy and research ethics.

And last, I’d love to see Pankaj Jha’s presentation on facial coding. As a past Psychologist, I know there is validity behind the theory of facial coding. I know that researchers are also getting better at transferring the theory of facial coding into valid practice, though we aren’t there quite yet. If that’s not enough, let’s just see if we can take something that is already difficult and make it even more difficult by going mobile. Hopefully, the mobile picture I took of myself thinking about this conference will be easy to code – good lighting, clear expression. I’m sure every consumers’ image will make it this easy for Jha.

To those fortunate enough to be attending, keep the rest of us in the loop with your blog posts and tweets. We’ll be anxiously waiting for them!

Establishing Global Social Media Research Benchmarks: Through the eyes of the Twitterverse #MRMW #MRX

Nicholas McCracken – Ford,  Tricia Benn – Rogers Publishing Limited, George Rassias – Ontario Lottery & Gaming, David Johnson – Decooda, Annie Pettit – Conversition, Malcolm De Leo – Netbase, Michael Wolf – BBDO, Tom H.C. Anderson – Anderson Analytics (OdinText)

Is there a need for social media research standards? Is it possible to build standards? I could tell you the kinds of questions and answers that came up during this panel but why not let the audience speak on my behalf. What follows is a very small (non-random) selection of tweets from the audience as they listened to the panel. I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts as well.

A Plea to the Canadian Government #MRX

Because Conversition has played an ongoing role in the social media space, Iwas asked by the MRIA to speak with them when they addressed the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in Ottawa.

Brendan Wycks, the Executive Director of the MRIA, opened our talk with a discussion of MRIA’s views and desires and I followed with a discussion more focused on social media research. Below is my speech.


Address to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
House of Commons, Ottawa, June 5, 2012
Presented with Brendan Wycks, Executive Director of the MRIA

Brendan Wycks Annie Pettit House of Commons Canada

Thank you everyone for taking the time to meet with us.

As Brendan said, my name is Annie Pettit and I am the Vice President of Research Standards as well as the Chief Research Officer at Conversition, a Canadian market research start-up specializing in social media research. I am an avid social media research tweeter, blogger, and conference presenter, and have recently published a book about social media research which includes a chapter on social media research ethics. Because I am seen as a global thought leader in the social media research space, ESOMAR in Europe, and the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) and the Marketing Research Association (MRA), MRIA’s counterparts in the United States, each invited me to be a contributing member of their social media research committees.

To give you a sense of the role that social media research is playing in the market research industry, I’d like to share with you a few results from the Spring 2012 Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report, a survey of over 800 market researchers around the world. Twenty-eight percent of those researchers had used social media research. Fifty-nine percent planned to use social media research in the next year. And more than 10% said that social media research is one of the greatest opportunities for researchers in the future.

Social media research is defined as the application of traditional market research principles to the collection and analysis of social media data for the purpose of better understanding policies and opinions. Just as survey researchers use survey data, social media researchers use social media data. And, we apply the same strict methodological practices to that data. For instance, just as with traditional survey research or focus group research, social media research begins by collecting the right data. Where survey researchers decide which people are best suited to participate in a survey, social media researchers decide which websites or other online forums are best suited for better understanding opinions. We incorporate traditional aspects of market research including sampling, weighting, scaling, norms, and box scores to ensure we measure opinions as accurately as possible.

The main purpose of social media research is to better understand the opinions people have towards policy issues, products and services, celebrities and politicians, social issues and cultural activities. Social media research helps us learn what people like and don’t like so that we can improve the services people receive, create better products, and better serve our constituents.

Most importantly, social media research is not a kinder, gentler word for social media marketing. We do not market products. We do not sell products. We, like our counterparts working in the traditional side of the industry, conduct market research. We abide by and respect the same methodological and ethical guidelines and standards as traditional researchers do.

I’d like to share with you just a few examples of how we abide by those principles.

First of all, we take great care to only collect public data.  Some websites, like Facebook and Linkedin, use passwords to completely hide portions of data from outsiders, including Google. If you were to do a Google search, this data would not be found. Social media researchers do not and in fact, cannot collect this data. Many social media research users expect to see more data coming from Facebook but because much of it is programmed as private, very little is actually released. In some cases, we could just create a password and collect the data. But we don’t. We respect this privacy.

Other websites allow anyone to read the entries. Comments left on YouTube, Flickr, or WordPress are written for strangers to read and enjoy, and can be found via a Google search. The purpose of passwords in these cases is to allow readers to follow the conversation among many different people. This is the type of data that social media researchers collect.

In addition, we depersonalize data that is shared in reports, we do not engage with social media users without their consent, and we do not knowingly collect data from minors.

The internet has evolved rapidly in recent years. Ten years ago, it seemed incomprehensible that the average person would share intimate details of their life online.  Today, bloggers are regular people who get excited when strangers, not their friends and family, read their thoughts and share them widely. Public forums are open social networks where strangers from around the world find and share opinions with each other. Twitter is a newer entrant into the social media space, and for many people using it, the ultimate goal is to write a tweet that millions of people around the world will read. We have reached a stage where social media has become so engrained in our lives that social media users expect companies to respond to social media comments written in an obscure corners of the internet. People expect their social media complaints to be met with letters of apology.

Right now, Canada is one of the global thought leaders in social media research and I’m proud to represent Canada in that role. But, I worry that if we lose this position, if we are unable to compete in the social media research space because our privacy standards restrict us rather than let us self-regulate, that our clients will have to use social media research conducted in countries with less than high ethical standards. That scares me.

Let us be thought leaders. Let us continue to lead in the social media research space. Let’s demonstrate to other countries that social media research can be conducted in a way that is beneficial to the government and corporate decision-makers who seek actionable insights from it; to research companies; and, most of all, to Canadians.

Thank you.

Through The Eyes of Twitter: Speaking at the Canadian House of Commons on Social Media Privacy #MRX #NewMR #NGMR

Oh, and for those who are wondering, yes, I DID see Justin Trudeau. He happened to walk by as we were having lunch. True!

I hope to post my speech and some informal comments later. Stay tuned!

The Audience Question I Fear the Most #MRX

I’ve done my fair share of webinar, workshop, and conference presentations. I’ve talked to groups of ten, a hundred, and three hundred people and there is usually an audience member with a point to prove. They’re skeptic of the topic, eager to prove they’re smarter than everyone else, or just keen to listen to their own voice.

They ask questions designed to identify flaws in methodology or logic, and force me to respond with answers like “You’re right, that is a problem” or “True, we should have done a better job with that,” or “Right, sentiment analysis will never be perfect.” But you know, those kinds of questions don’t scare me. Every research project that was ever conducted was rife with logic and methodology errors and I’m glad that researchers are picking up on them. That’s how the cycle of research works. Find a problem this time, fix the problem the next time.

Then there are questions from people who are keen about the work that has been presented and want to learn more about it. They’ve seen the tables and graphs that I’ve prepared. They’ve listened to the pros and cons of the methodology. They’ve seen the real life examples of misleading and poorly done research. With all of that information, they understand the good and bad of what they’re potentially getting into and they’re intrigued. Intrigued enough to ask that dreaded question.

Now first, you have to recognize that I am a researcher to the core. I deliberately chose to take every single research methods and statistics and psychometrics class in school, even going so far as to get special permission to take classes that were outside of my curriculum. Research methods was and is all I care about.

My problem is this. Every conference submission form and every followup email from conference organizers says you must educate and not promote and I wholeheartedly agree with those rules. I don’t want a sales pitch at a conference. I want to learn something new.

But then that horrible question gets asked. It comes in one of two forms. 1) “What software are you using to do this?” and 2) “How much is your software?” Anyone who’s seen me present can attest to my reaction to those questions. They immediately catch me off guard and I stumble through answers like an idiot. Answering these questions makes me feel like I am promoting and selling. Indeed, I feel that simply speaking in front of a crowd is a sales pitch.

Even worse, as soon as I’m asked to talk brands and money, I fear that people will distrust my research objectivity. I fear that people will disregard my passion for quality and honesty and see not the sense, but the cents. That, my research friends, is truly terrifying. But perhaps I’m over thinking things. Perhaps those questions are just nice compliments, confirmations that I’ve done the job I was supposed to do. Perhaps it really was a sales pitch, a sales pitch done the right way. But I still hate getting that question.

Here’s the Problem with Social Media Research Ethics #MRX

Immanuel Kant developed his own version of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Wherever I may wander, wherever I may roam, I always come across a divide in the interpretation of market research ethics. Some people think all market research must be permission based. Other people think anything in the public eye is fair game. The gap therein is wide, rife with arguments, and seemingly unsolveable. But I think I’ve figured out what the problem is.

Many people playing in the market research sandbox have no training in market research. They did NOT take an undergraduate degree in market research. They did NOT take statistics and research methods and research ethics courses in school. They did NOT take philosophy or medical or psychology or sociology courses in ethics. They have NOT taken certification courses offered by market research institutions. In fact, many people playing in the market research sandbox come from computer science, database management, and many other non-social science research spaces. They don’t have the same understanding of people as market researchers do.

Our industry is suffering from a massive influx of workers with insufficient or no training in important market research skills and knowledge. Sure, you can pick up things on the job, from your colleagues, from mentors, from conferences, from webinars, and from many other places. But you can’t pick up everything and you can’t pick up everything correctly. And you certainly can’t pick up research ethics without the careful guidance of someone who has spent decades debating that issue with trained and respected colleagues.

It is only with appropriate training that we will be able to reduce the gap. The gap will always be there but as more of us better understood the human condition and the rules that go along with using humans as data points, there will be more points of agreement. So raise your voice. Raise your voice every time it’s needed.

Will Communities Kill the 6 Group Project by Nick Priestley #SoMeMR #li #mrx

15.30 PANEL: Will communities kill the 6 group project?

  • The future for research communities in generating insight
  • How online communities fit into the overall market research mix
  • Evaluating cost efficiencies and quality trade-offs

Nick Priestley, Managing Director, Tuned In

  • Are communities mainstream now? We are approaching mass market in terms of awareness. People still have concerns about blurring boundaries but there are more and more success stories. Barrier is internal stake holders.
  • Is it research? should we call it research? It’s more about collaboration and getting input in at the beginning. Forward thinking clients are open to it. Does it replace traditional focus group?
  • is 6 group project under threat? It will never die. It is still relevant. But there are many benefits to online approach. Start with hypotheses, develop over time. You can do this in two hour. Vast geography, you can’t do focus groups in hard to reach areas.
  • What kind of people work best in communities? 1% are super users, 9% are active, 90% don’t do anything. We want more people to be active. Now, people are more familiar with the idea. We need to show the process more to interest more people.
  • Segment communities so you can identify the creative people and the strict people and use each group to their strengths. Find tasks that are creative as possible to encourage people. People often don’t realize they were capable of expressing themselves in that way.
  • Audience – it’s important to listen to people who know nothing and these people aren’ t in communities.
  • Online doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper. You get more value from community. More people, less geography issues, less time of day issues, more natural setting, technology gives you more creative options.
  • Is it the shiny object effect? Do groups need a fresh spark? There is absolutely room for both. [Ah yes, the dichotomy must always be there, qual vs quant, online vs offline, MY favourite must always win. Can we just all use one big tool box with all the shiny tools in it?]
  • Are communities a safe haven with fewer ethics issues? Are communities fake social media? Communities are no different from people in real life.
  • Audience – Will facebook put an end to parties? Same as will communities put an end to groups. The two must work together. [ha, yeah. no more parties for me.]
  • Communities when used properly will replace parts of panel and parts of focus groups. [Because it is a better tool for various objectives. Use the RIGHT tool from your toolbox.]
  • Audience – Are focus groups more boring than they need to be? Can we incorporate fun of communities back into focus group.
  • Audience – What about finding pre-existing communities, that aren’t created by MR. This area is littered with huge fails because of lack of transparency, researchers failing to identify themselves. Perhaps use those areas for recruitment. [remember patientslikeme]
  • Audience – 6 groups aren’t under threat, the creative brainstorming groups are under threat. Communities let you do it over a longer period of time.
  • Audience – Are communities at risk because anyone can do them, even if you aren’t trained? Well, the client can read the entire transcript and confirm it all.

Ethical Framework for SMR, Panel #SoMeMR #MRX #li

10.15 PANEL: Establishing an ethical framework for social media research

  • Tracking developments towards new standards for social media research in Europe and the US
  • Dealing with privacy issues: Assessing attitudes towards privacy in online environments
  • Evaluating ethical guidelines for blog and buzz mining
  • When is engagement with commenters necessary?
  • Evaluating appropriate codes of conduct for qualitative approaches to harvesting data via social media channels

Barry Ryan, Standards & Policy Manager, MRS
Jillian Williams, External Relations Team Leader, Highways Agency
Pete Comley, Chairman, Join the Dots (formerly Virtual Surveys)
Simon McDonald, Business Director, Insites Consulting

  • Barry – Data protection, there is identifiable data that must be protected. Copyright – blogposts, photos, videos, all covered under copyright act. Terms and service – of individual sites must be respected. Internal issue – how MR codes are constructed – participation is based on voluntary informed consent, that is our heritage.  (I’m waiting to hear about the stance on observational research, and qualitative researchers abilities to summarize text.)
  • Simon – Does research industry need rules?  We know it’s a work in progress. We don’t want to be restricted from doing things that other companies are able to do. (e.g., buzz companies don’t have to listen to MR ethics)
  • Pete – Believes in guidelines. Was part of ESOMAR guidelines committee.  Not happy with MRS stance. Bodies should be forward looking and represent us. Tone of consultation document does not do that. Document is like Pope and Catholic church. Applying to the letter. MRS won’t stop us from doing SMR. Seriously risks splitting entire MR industry in the UK. It is that serious. Solutions? We must be more inclusive and representative. Must be provisions for MR to do SMR. Long term, MRS code of conduct is the problem. Informed consent is the problem. We are NOT interviewing people here. This is analyzing public data. Concept of informed consent does not apply. We need to relook at code of conduct.
  • Jillian – As a research client, anonymity is important. Masking isn’t satisfactory.  Client does not want to be on the front page of the Daily Mail. Client will take the flack, not the industry. Clients want to comply with guidelines. Clients pay the bill.
  • Barry – Data Protection Act is the problem. Informed Consent is the first thing in it. There is no distinction between public and private. The MRS Code reflects rules of legislation. MRS made it easy for researchers to comply with data protection act. “This data is accessible” is not sufficient but you can work with the data provider directly and then it’s ok. “Subject to data protection rules” is important. If MRS interpeted law incorrectly, please tell them. [Call to MR company internal legal counsel - does anyone see if there have been misinterpretations of Data Protection Act?]
  • Pete – Data Protection Act is pre-internet. How do we survive as industry until and if there are changes?
  • Barry – Whatever comes next will not be better. “The legislator knows best.”  People want the right to be forgotten (drunken photos should be deleted if the person wants them deleted).
  • Simon – Self-regulation is important. Dialogue with respondents means better qulaity data. Consent is important but best research is also important. Their company had a problem where they friended people for research purposes, with multiple layers of consent, but then of course Facebook lets you see friends of friends, and those friends hadn’t given consent.
  • Jillian – SMR is not necessarily representative.
  • Annie – I asked a question about whether observational research is not research since it’s not informed consent and whether masking is an assault on qualitative researchers who mask for a living.
  • Barry – This is not an assault on qualitative research. There is a separate guidelines for qual research. Maybe the MRS heard nothing back from qualitative researchers and it’s not reflected in the paper. In the online space, everything is data, video, photo. Under the data Proection Act, processing data is engagement. Masking is good for privacy, but it doesn’t rectify the potential unlawfullness of the act of taking the data.
  • Pete – Does everything really need to be masked? “I love McDonalds” maybe not.  Anything Pete says here, he risks it being written down and shared. (Hmmmm….. watch out!) Going out of your way to NOT quote something written in the online public space seems odd. What do you do with gray area of semi-private. Inconsequential “This hotel is lovely” doesn’t need masking but someone’s sexual preference does need masking. It is a minefield.
  • Jillian – Doesn’t like masking at all. We want the insight from the quote as opposed to masked verbatims that aren’t exactly correct and could be misunderstood.
  • Question – why are companies doing this if it’s all illegal under data protection act? [Great question - are we waiting for someone to get sued and go to court before we get an update to the legislation?]

If It Ain’t Illegal, It’s All Good #MRX

I’ve been to a number of market research conferences where the following argument has been raised in defense of  methodologies that some people deem questionable:

It’s not illegal so we can do it.

It’s made me stop and re-evaluate how I run my life. That whole “Do unto others” thing is far too complicated and theoretical and the books that promote it are thousands of years old and not relevant to me. Besides, it’s greatly to my advantage to base my choices purely on legalities. So here is how I’m going to better my life.

  1. I’m going to save at least $100 every year by keeping any wallets or phones that I find. (Shout, I could have had a new Android phone last week!)
  2. I’m going to get at least 3 free pairs of gloves and 1 free umbrella every year by not telling departing transit passengers that they’ve dropped something.
  3. Conferences presentations will be a lot funnier because I won’t tell people who are about to present that their zipper is undone.
  4. I will save at least 90 minutes every year by no longer holding doors open for people, trying to re-unite lost children with their moms, and offering to taking photos for visiting travelers.
  5. I will make more money by disregarding personal preferences for privacy, anonymity, and respect.
  6. I will gain more self-respect by doing what’s right for me personally instead of wondering how my perfectly legal actions affect the people around me.

It’s all perfectly legal my dear friends so let’s start with item #1.

Social Media Data is like a Box of Timbits #MRX

The Timbit Story

Once upon a time, I brought a box of Timbits to work to share with my research team. I plopped the box on my desk, and my colleagues and I occasionally reached over to dip our hands into the box and grab a treat. I picked out the chocolate Timbits and kruller Timbits. My teammates picked out the raspberry Timbits because they know it’s in their best interest to eat the donuts I don’t like. We chatted and worked and ate.

timbit donut

Suddenly, someone who sat way over in the far corner of the office and who had never talked to us before, happened to wander by our area on his way to the photocopier. He spied the Timbits and with one swoop of his arm, he reached over and grabbed as many as he could fit into his two hands.

We stared in surprise as he continued on his way without a word. “Do you know that guy?” I asked. But no one did. The Timbit thief had struck in broad daylight.

The end.


Deconstructing the Timbit Story

Ok, so that wasn’t a great story, and the fact that I shared Timbits makes it an unbelievable story. But let’s think a bit about it.

I know that the 200 people in my office share a common space. We share the windows, the meeting rooms, the kitchen. Though I may not talk to everyone, or know everyone’s name, we all work for the same company, towards the same goal. We are many small teams within one larger team. My research team is one small network within a much larger social network.

And clearly, the Timbits weren’t MY donuts since a bunch of us were shoving our hands in the box and taking whatever we wanted without asking permission to eat each individual donut. They were obviously communal donuts. But still, most people would recognize that the donuts were intended for the research team, not for  the entire office to pillage.

This is how a lot of people feel about social media data. Yes, they know the internet is public, just as their office space is public. But within the office, you have friends who are allowed to touch the donuts on your desk. And, all the other people in the office can wander around but they aren’t allowed to touch the donuts on your desk. Similarly, when we’re on the internet, we’re sharing information with our friends and followers, not with random people waiting to pillage whatever valuable items they can find.

So please, the next time you embark on a social media project that uses publicly available social media data, consider the mighty Timbit. Before you quote status updates and tweets and messages, make sure you consider the fact that those messages weren’t intended for you. If you haven’t got permission to quote someone, be sure to anonymize and mask their messages. It’s basic common sense and respect. Respect for the Timbit.

Buy The Listen Lady Book

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