Rats, Respondents, and Rutabega


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For a long time now, I’ve been struggling to find a word that means what I want it to mean. Today, @mattpluggedin asked the question out loud so I decided to try and voice my internal discussion here.

“What do you call people who provide market research data?”



Rats: Well, I guess this one’s just too offensive to consider though it’s often accurate – human and otherwise. Cross it off.

Subjects: Many years ago, this was the word researchers used to address people. Kind of disrespectful even for furry friend subjects”.

Respondents: Ok, little better. Someone who responds to something or someone, a survey or focus group leader for example.

Participants: Now it gets tough. To me, a participant is someone who is actively engaged in a process, almost a partnership. This is the most common word used among research surveyors as it denotes a level of respect the other labels lack. I really don’t feel that participant always reflects how we treat people who answer surveys but I guess it’s the best we have for now.

Contributors: What? What is this word? This is the word I suggest we use in the social media research world. Contributors have not been asked to participate in research even though they have published their opinions for all to see. They are not responding to anything nor are they participating in anything. They are merely making data available, or contributing data, to those who wish to read and appreciate it. I’ve noodled around other words but nothing has hit the spot for me. So I’ll stake my ground here.

And the rutabega? Well, I just threw that in for fun.

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  • One response

    1. Rats, fish (river sampling), rabbits (“speeders”) etc. – plenty of derogatory labels have been in use reflecting the lack of live interaction with research participants, that online methods brought about. Obviously, no one would have used this speak in the heydays of F2F or even telephone. So, somewhere along the way, we lost touch and forgot that “sample is people”.

      Survey participants, I’d agree, works perfectly fine with ‘traditional’ data collection approaches and it makes perfect sense to differentiate social media research “contributors” given their lack of direct involvement. The word works fine – and even brainstorming ‘your’ thesaurus.reference.com* doesn’t provide any useful alternatives😉

      I ask myself though, whether the good ol’ “subjects” doesn’t actually do the trick for social media research? Sure, it isn’t fancy and might seem old school to some – but at the end of the day, it pretty well describes what we’re dealing with. Derogatory? Not in my view – and besides, we’re not exactly addressing anyone are we?

      Thanks for a(nother) great post!🙂

      PS. *The visual version is fun, by the way!

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