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At the Esomar conference in Chicago last year, a speaker commented on how one could send out surveys and then follow up with targeted sales calls. Someone politely corrected him a few minutes later because “sugging,” selling under the guise of research, is not an ethical practice. Clearly, the MR rules are not well known outside our immediate industry.
The exploding popularity of social media has opened the door for many new companies in the field of SM monitoring. Their bread and butter is finding out who is saying what about your brand so that you may counteract any negative happenings. Since every online post is linked to a person, often even the real name of a person, it is very easy for those companies to directly communicate with those people.
In market research, privacy and anonymity are our Prime Directives. We do not reveal names. We do not interfere with people. We do not try to change their opinions. We DO listen, learn, and try to solve business problems on a group level.
Are we about to encounter a new type of “ugging” then? “Rugging” refers to replying under the guise of research. This means that in the course of carrying out social media research, someone takes the step of replying to someone whose data just happens to appears in the research data set. The person didn’t asked to participate and they didn’t respond to a question.
For me, this is in direct violation of the Prime Directive. Sure, the internet is open. Sure, the links and names are readily available to everyone. But that doesn’t make it right. People need to be able to express their honest opinions without worrying that some big company is going to try to change their opinions. People need to retain their right to choose when they want to interact with a company. People need to maintain ownership of who they communicate with.
The internet is not an equal playing field. There are billion dollar companies with thousands of IT professionals, lawyers, and SME. Then there are little old ladies who just typed out their first youtube comment. Do not even try to convince me that “she ought to know” or “well that’s just too bad.”
Not everyone knows the rules of the game. That is not their fault. In the research world, we have taken an oath of sorts to protect the people who share their opinions. Whether they provide survey data or SM data, we owe it to them.
I hope you feel that way too.
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