From the front row of a packed room, I listened to a presenter discuss sharing YouTube videos with their clients in order to help them better understand consumers. As a power user of social media, and having extensive experience with social media listening, I completely understand the reasoning behind this. Qualitative researchers too have long understood the importance of bringing individual consumers into the boardroom using video evidence. Of course, as a huge proponent of privacy and ethical standards, I had a question for the speaker, one that I have posed many times before including earlier in the day to another speaker at the same conference.
Did you get permission from each person before sharing their videos with your clients?
Sadly, I got the full set of responses I expected.
1) “We don’t ask for permission when we’re sharing videos in the office or pointing things out to one person”
This, I completely understand. It’s not too different from seeing a funny cat video and calling your friends over to watch it with you. Any brand manager can go online while at work or in their leisure time, search for videos and comments related to their brand, and watch them ad nauseam. Social media, like YouTube, is there for random people to find and appreciate random bits of content.
2) “We like to act first and get permission later”
This thoroughly disappointed me. Do I want my consumers to know that’s how I feel about them? That I don’t care about their right to privacy? That I don’t care if they might be embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated to find out that a video they made for their friends was inserted into an official report, passed around the office to be dissected for hours, and then permanently saved on multiple cloud servers?
Given that I am also a human being trying to understand other human beings, it is essential to me that I reinterpret everything I hear from the point of view of a regular human being. With that in mind, ‘getting permission later’ feels creepy and invasive. It feels like a violation of my personal space. It feels disrespectful. It erodes my trust in the market research profession. It makes me want to stop participating in market research activities like questionnaires and focus groups. Return to the perspective of the researcher and see how these consumer perceptions lead to increased recruitment costs, increased incentive costs, and increased data collection costs. Getting permission from consumers later is an extremely unwise decision. It begs for negative and destructive press. Do you remember the Patients Like Me incident? It didn’t turn out well for them.
If the ethics of not obtaining prior permission don’t bother you, are you more easily convinced by a massive hit to your wallet?
3) “The market research industry doesn’t take enough risks”
This baffles me. You’re okay risking my privacy? You’re okay with the risk of humiliating me? You’re okay risking getting caught? Yes, it’s very easy to take a risk with someone else’s personal life.
If we think about taking risks from the innovation side of things, well, how does respecting and treating people ethically, and being concerned for their privacy and personal space conflict with innovation? How does waiting a day, or even seven days, to get permission to use a personal video stall innovation so much so that a business cannot be profitable? The market research industry does need to push innovation boundaries but it never needs to do so at the expense of the very human being we’re trying to understand.
Imagine you’re a giant, global brand. You’ve just spoken to 500 people at a conference. A journalist in the crowd takes down your words verbatim.
Would you be embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated if a TV news anchor quoted your brand on live TV saying “Use their videos first and get permission later?”
P.S. yes, the Venn diagram is vastly out of proportion. Discuss.