At ESOMAR 3D 2011, Mike Cooke chaired a panel discussion on privacy with:

  • Adam Phillips, the chair of the ESOMAR Professional Standards Committee and Legal Committee
  • Annie Pettit, of Research Now
  • Manilla Austin, of Communispace
  • Reg Baker, of Market Strategies International
  • Tom de Ruyck, of InSites Consulting

Mike said, “I’d like you to think about the compound noun ‘marketing research’. Does it mean ‘marketing’? Or does it mean ‘research’? Or does it mean something unique based on confidentiality and privacy? These mattered during the age of the survey–do they matter now?” He asked whether we have a utopian or dystopian view of privacy.

Annie started by talking about trust. Not everyone wants to be responded to by brands and they are disgusted and feel violated when brands do talk to them through social media.

Tom argued that identities online are merging with real identities, with use of avatars declining. He believes this is the real Voice of the Customer online. “Feedback is bottom up and geniune, making the comment in the heat of the moment, making it more authentic.” Brand affinity is not black or white: 40% of brand fans in an Insites community were critical of the brand, for instance, reflecting the reality of consumers relations to brand.

Manila discussed where the line between research and advocacy communities is. Where research communities are about generating insight, advocacy communities are about generating awareness and buzz, with any consumer insight gained surreptiously. For instance, VitaminWater ran an advocacy community to co-create a product using a Facebook application that provided information about the Facebook users who utilized it.

Reg asked where social media fits in. The rules are completely different: all of the various ways to be able to understand people as consumers is a paradigm shift. As with Copernicus, we now have a new framework for analyzing problems, and for us, as with Copernicus, there is a religious zeal to some of this. “We live in a very relativistic world right now. What methodology should we use? It depends. It depends on what we already know and what we are trying to learn.”

Adam discussed ethical principles vs. prescriptive rules. ESOMAR’s objective is to be the organization of professional researchers, promoting promotional standards and thereby building the trust of the public and of governments. Three principles: treat the respondent with risk, be sensitive to consumer concerns and be diligent in maintaining the distinction between research and commercial activities. He then reviewed the ESOMAR guidelines on social media research.

Ray Poynter asked, “Is self-regulation dead? Should we by lobbying for legislation?” Annie said that legislation might be useful but on top of that you need an internal self-regulation of ethics because legal rules don’t cover every possible unethical practice. Reg agrees in his heart with Annie but fears the newness of these techniques means that social norms have evolved: people go online and behave in crazy ways that contradict the public sphere they are operating in. Unfortunately the social media guidelines apply a survey paradigm to social media.

Adam pointed out that sites have Terms Of Use which many scraping companies are violating by taking data. If you take data under the TOS and analyze it, that’s legal and fine. If you use a quote, mask it when you share it. Manila and Tom pointed out that market research online communities provide great protection of participant privacy.

Mike concluded by advocating that attendees review the ESOMAR social media research guidelines.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.