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
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.