Tag Archives: ethics

Voxpopme 6: How does market research maintain trust when fake news is perceived to be rife?

Along with a group of market resevoxpopme logoarchers from around the world, I was asked to participate in Voxpopme Perspectives – an initiative wherein insights industry experts share ideas about a variety of topics via video. You can read more about it here or watch the videos here. Viewers can then reach out over Twitter or upload their own video response. I’m more of a writer so you’ll catch me blogging rather than vlogging. 🙂

Episode 6: How does market research maintain trust and authority in modern times where fake news and misinformation are perceived to be rife?

There are a few things we can do.

First, despite how expertise is being discredited more and more these days, let’s be more open and transparent about our credentials. More than simply degrees and experience, let’s talk about our membership in recognized industry associations such as Insights Association, MRIA, MRS, AMSRS, and Esomar, as well as ISO certifications. Let’s do more than simply mention we’re members, and instead start our conversations with that fact. Let’s describe what it means to be a member in good standing in terms of the code of standards and ethics we abide by. Let’s put those logos on the first page of our reports, and even include with them some of the ethics and standards statements that are most relevant to the specific project. Let’s use these as reminders for our clients that we always act in their best interest, and in the best interest of the research project, even if the results don’t work out the way we had hoped.

Second, let’s be more transparent with clients. Let’s tell clients about all of the strengths and weaknesses of our research processes, about the things that changed unexpectedly along the way, even if it means disappointing them. When we can’t achieve the response rate, sample size, or cost per complete that they require, let’s tell them right from the beginning and be clear about why it can’t be done. When the results we generate are completely unexpected and don’t line up with our hypotheses or norms, let’s be open and honest about what might have happened and whether there might be a problem. Let’s worry less about not winning a job, and more about demonstrating our commitment to the integrity of results. The secondary bonus of this transparency is that we can educate less experienced buyers on how research can be positively and negatively impacted by a variety of known and unknown variables so that they will be more informed buyers in the future.

Third, let’s be better public advocates. When we see our research in the media, let’s ensure the results, conclusions, and recommendations are clearly properly represented. And when they aren’t, let’s get in touch with the media to help them understand what the issue is, including telling them why margin of error or making a certain generalization isn’t appropriate. And if they refuse to correct the misinterpretation, let’s make a public statement to right the wrong, perhaps with a note on your website sharing details about how the information should be properly interpreted. And along the way, if we learn that certain media channels regularly misinterpret results, let’s reconsider working with those channels and even the clients that work with those channels. Every one of us has a part to play in helping to ensure our research results are properly portrayed.

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Pitting ethics against innovation in marketing research

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.

Uses of survey and polling data collection: practical and ethical implications #PAPOR #MRX 

Live blogged at #PAPOR in San Francisco. Any errors or bad jokes are my own.

Are California’s Registered Independents Shy Partisans?, David Kordus, Public Policy Institute of California

  • number of independent voters has doubled in the last twenty years
  • automatic voter registration via the DMV will add new voters
  • independents are not one homogeneous group
  • on average, they really are the middle between republicans and democrats, not necessarily more moderate

Exploring the Financial Landscape Facing Veterans in Nevada: Financial Literacy, Decision-making, and Payday Loans, Justin S. Gardner & Christopher Stream, UNLV, Runner-Up Student Paper Competition Winner

  • payday lending only started in the 1990s, more of them in military areas
  • largest security clearance issues were financial, capped interest rate of payday loans
  • 375 respondents, lots of disabled veterans who can’t work
  • use as medical loans is very low, many use it to pay off student loans or other debts, paying for housing also major use
  • most learned about it from tv commercials, or friends and family. If family are encouraging them to do this, something needs to change
  • people who don’t feel prepared for emergencies are more likely to use
  • majority had salary under $50 000, likely to need another loan in the future
  • 20% had used payday, it is cyclical, once you’re in the cycle it’s difficult to break out of it
  • half people could walk there from their home, didn’t need a car

What Constitutes Informed Consent? Understanding Respondents’ Need for Transparency, Nicole Buttermore, Randall Thomas, Frances M. Barlas, & Mansour Fahimi, GfK

  • biggest threat is release of name of participant but should participants be told sponsor of the study?
  • problem is nonresponse and survey bias if people know who the sponsor is
  • 6% thought taking a survey could have a negative impact on their life – worried about data breach, who has access to data, company might be hacked, improper use of data, questions might make me feel uncomfortable
  • 95% think surveys have no or minimal risk to my mental health – about 23% have quit a survey because it made them feel uncomfortable
  • about 20% said a survey has made them feel very uncomfortable – ask abour race, income, too much personal information, can’t give the exact answer they want to, feel political surveys are slanted, surveys are boring, don’t know how to answer the question
  • respondents want to know how personal information will be used and how privacy will be protected
  • want to know how long it will take, the topic, and the points for it
  • about twenty percent want to know company doing the research and company paying for the research

Recent Changes to the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act, Bob Davis, Davis Research

  • this is not legal advice
  • TCPA issue is regarding calls using automated telephone equipment
  • lawyers like to threaten to sue but settle
  • vicarious liability – responsibility of the superior for the acts of their subordinates, i.e., contract work, sponsor of research
  • any phone with a redial button is an autodialer – so only the old phones where you stick your finger in the hole and turn the dial is not an autodialer
  • if you can get permission, then get it
  • regularly scrub your landline system to make sure there are no cell phones in it
  • use a non-predictive dialing system
  • ask that suppliers are TCPA compliant
  • international partners dialing into the US need to follow the rules as well
  • talk with your lawyer ahead of time so you can say you have already talked to a lawyer and they don’t think you are weak

When is not doing any harm an ethical dilemma? #MRX

As a researcher, I do my best to be aware of whether the research I’m conducting has the potential to do harm. Whether it’s observational social media research or survey panel research, I try to identify and fix occasions where people might be offended by being a part of my work.

But how often do we think about the ethics of a study in terms of how much of someone’s time we ‘waste.’ Obviously, the researcher’s point of view will always be that time answering a survey was meaningfully and well spent.

But what about from the responder’s point of view? How often do you review your research in terms of more than just harm. Aren’t overly boring, overly long surveys disrespectful and harmful in their own way?

What about interventional research where unknowing participants ‘waste’ time that they would have spent doing something else if only they had known?

I came across a great example of this issue by a well known statistician, Andrew Gelman. Read this excerpt and then his full post linked below and decide for yourself whether the research you’re doing is bothersome and unethical.

P.S. Some might say that it is mean of me to send such a sarcastic email to two evidently serious researchers. If I had been asked to participate in the study, I would respond more discreetly, but the unsolicited nature of the project seemed to demand an equivalent response. I am indeed sensitive to the ethical difficulties of survey research, but this does not stop me from feeling that my helpful impulses toward inquiring students are being abused by this sort of study, which I think belongs in the trash heap of ill-advised research projects along with Frank Flynn’s notorious survey from a few years ago when he tried to get free meals out of NYC restaurants by falsely claiming food poisoning. What is it with Columbia Business School researchers?

Read the full article here via $63,000 worth of abusive research . . . or just a really stupid waste of time? – Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.
FYI The language in his post may be offensive

How marketing researchers can start being more ethical right now #MRX

I challenge you to rethink your behaviours. I challenge you to jump off that pedestal of marketing researchers are more ethical than other people in the marketing world and think about whether you’re being as ethical as you like to think you are. I challenge you to:

1) tell people that answering your survey or participating in your focus group might make them sad or uncomfortable or angry
2) recognize that benign questions about age, gender, income, brand loyalty, weather, and politics make people unhappy, uncomfortable, and angry
3) incentivize people when they quit a survey partway through especially when a question may have made them uncomfortable
4) allow people to not answer individual questions but still complete the entire survey
5) debrief people at the end if surveys by sharing some details about how the results will be used to make people happier via better products and services

Can you hold yourself to a higher standard? Can you start right now?

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Is Facebook the only emotional manipulator? #MRX

If you haven’t heard of the Facebook ‘scandal’ by now then I’m jealous of the holiday you’ve just taken on a beautiful tropical island with no internet access. The gist of the scandal is that the feeds of 689,003 people were curated differently than everyone else to gauge the subsequent effect on emotion.

While most people’s feeds are curated based on which friends you like, share, and comment on more often, the feeds of these people were curated in addition, by considering the positive and negative words they included. In both conditions, Facebook chose which of your friends’ posts you would see though in the Test condition, you might be offered a greater proportion of their positive or negative posts. The conclusion was that you can indeed affect people’s emotions based on what they read. You can read the published study here.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on the ethics of this study right now. Ethics interest me but I’m not an ethicist. So instead, let me think about this from a scientific point of view.

Do you deliberately manipulate emotions in the work you do? As a marketing researcher, your job is ONLY to manipulate emotions. You know very well that this brand of cola or that brand of chips or the other brand of clothing cannot boast better taste, feel, look, or workmanship. All of those features are in the eye, or taste buds, of the beholder. Through careful research, we seek to learn what makes different kinds of people happy about certain products so that marketers can tout the benefits of their products. But, at the same time, we also seek to learn what disappoints and makes people unhappy about the products and services they use such that those weaknesses can be exploited by marketers.

Through a strange twist of fate, a colleague and I recently conducted a tiny study. We found the results quite interesting, and wrote a quick blog post about it. Then the Facebook news broke. As Facebook did on a larger scale, I will confess that I manipulated the emotions of about 300 people.

Previously, I saw on a number of studies that age breaks are inconsistent. Sometimes researchers create an 18 to 34 age break, and other times they create an 18 to 35 age break. In other words, sometimes you’re the youngest person in a group, and sometimes you’re the oldest person in a group. Would you rather be the oldest person in a young group, or the youngest person in an old group? What did we find? Well, people did indeed express greater happiness when they were part of the younger group, even though they were the oldest person in that group. I deliberately and knowingly manipulated happiness. Just like Facebook did. Do you hate me now? Do you think I’m unethical? You can read the post here.

As marketing researchers, every bit of research we do, every interaction we have with people, is intended to manipulate emotions. We collect data that marketers use to criticise our favourite products. We collect data so that politicians can directly criticise other politicians through their negative ad campaigns. Has that bothered you yet? Has that bothered you enough to warrant outcries in social media? Have you campaigned for an immediate ban of television, radio, and viewing products on the shelves at supermarkets knowing that those things are intended to manipulate our emotions?

Since you know that your research is intended to affect emotions, do you inform your research participants about the potential negative consequences of participating in your research? Do you tell them that seeing their age in the older age bracket may make them unhappy, that viewing critical ads may make them unhappy, that being asked to select up to five negative attributes might make them unhappy?

Given that we’ve done it this way for so long, have we become complacent about the ethics of the research we conduct? In this age of big data, is it time to take a fresh look at the ethics of marketing research?

[Originally published on Research Live]

 

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Canadian Senate: Boring mumbo jumbo or fascinating privacy discussions? #MRX

Bumped to first class!

Bumped to first class!

On my way to prep for our Senate meeting

On my way to prep for our Senate meeting

Today, I was pleased and, more correctly, honoured to appear before a Senate Committee to speak with Kara Mitchelmore, the CEO of the MRIA, regarding Senate Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act. The official opinion will shortly be available but for those of you who can’t wait, here is the basic gist of it. Any inaccuracies here are my own. 1) Breach notifications should be mandatory, and the Privacy Commissioner should be the unbiased third party that determines what is a real risk of significant harm to an individual. 2) The MRIA supports the provisions in the bill which add clarity to what is valid consent. The committee may be interested in our code of conduct which contains a section on the ethical issues in dealing with children and young people. 3) The MRIA is pleased that PIPEDA will be amended to allow the transfer of personal information from an organization to a prospective purchaser or business partner (think mergers and acquisitions). 4) The MRIA does not support allowing organizations to share personal information of individuals to other organizations without consent. It should follow due process such as through a court order.

Senate Committee agenda

Senate Committee agenda

5) The MRIA would like to close a loophole which allowed organizations to share personal information without consent to an investigative body or government institution. It should follow due process such as through a court order. After we spoke, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, made numerous excellent points (Michael’s website). Some of his comments are included here (any errors or misrepresentations are my own).

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Pugging – the newest busines faux pas

When did the word “partnership” change its meaning?

The word “partnership” used to denote 1) equal power, 2) equal give, and 3) equal take. As in, both parties learn something important or gain financial reward or feel the satisfaction of contributing to society, both parties happily give something whether knowledge or resources or finances, and both parties have equal power to say yes or no or what the what?

Nowadays, as soon as I hear “I think we could work on a partnership,” my brain automatically translates it into “I would like to sell you something” or “I would like something from you for free.” Saying partnership when you mean something else is a serious time waster. If it takes folks a couple hours of transportation, plus an hour of meetings plus calls and emails to figure out that a partnership really wasn’t the end goal, both parties have lost. Wasted their time. And in business talk, that means both parties have wasted dollars. If you want to make a sales pitch, then call it that. If you want a weeks worth of free advice, call it that. Transparency will always get you further ahead whether that means saving time, engendering respect, or getting what you actually wanted in the first place.

Perhaps we need yet another new phrase. Where market researchers have Sugging (selling under the guise of research), and Mugging (marketing under the guise of research), I’d like to propose Pugging – selling under the guise of partnerships.

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.

https://twitter.com/DianeTweeting/status/226009518386065408

https://twitter.com/DianeTweeting/status/226010147686858752

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