Difference between asking and listening
The market research industry was founded on its ability to ask the right questions to samples of the right people. In the past, guidelines have been very useful in ensuring an ethical code of practice and goodwill among respondents, the lifeblood of the industry.
A code of conduct has put the industry in good stead. For example in Britain, consumers can opt out of receiving unsolicited sales or marketing telephone calls through subscribing to the TPS (Telephone Preference Service). Organisations including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties cannot make calls to TFP subscribers unless they have consent. The good news for telephone interviewing is that market research companies are exempt from this restriction.
But while guidelines can help MR differentiate itself from other organisations that compete for respondents’ attention, they are not able to surmount a key ongoing issue - survey fatigue and the costs associated with overcoming it.
Despite adhering to its guidelines the MR industry is constantly battling against lower response rates. Put very simply, we are asking an increasing time-poor public too many boring questions, and it’s time for a change of approach. If consumers are less inclined to answer questions then either we as researchers can make surveys more engaging, or choose another route and do away with asking questions altogether.
If techniques such as social media monitoring can provide us with vital clues, through listening rather than asking, then surely it’s a “no-brainer” – but do we need to regulate it? If yes how?
The MRS Market Research Standards Board launched a discussion paper on Online Data Collection in August, which contained many suggestions DigitalMR disagreed with. Some key parts of the guidelines are shown below:
“Where a researcher is being asked to collect information from or about
individuals who have profiles on a social media service, they should ask the
- Do the respondents know that they are participating in a research project and do they have the right to withdraw?
- What have users been told about the why the data is being collected and the purposes for which is will be used?
- What expectations do they have about their data being accessed by third parties?
- If so, what information is the researcher required to disclose about themselves, their organisation and the purpose of the data collection?
- In addition what information needs to be disclosed and consent obtained to meet national data protection laws?
- Who owns the right to copy and reproduce photographs, videos and postings?”
A quick read shows they uphold an ethical, permission based approach, when asking respondents questions online. For example when operating a private online community, or posing questions for co-creation it makes sense that community members know who is asking questions, why they are asking, how and where the results will be used.
But can these guidelines really be geared to cover “listening”? How can a web-listening service that monitors hundreds of thousands of customer comments made on open - access websites, let individuals know they are participating in “research” let alone seek permission? Which leads to another question – does web-listening actually constitute market research, or is it different?
If web-listening is different to market research, and I would take the view that it is, then perhaps a different set of guidelines need to apply. The internet has now become such an integral part of our lives that there are now a vast array of techniques available for extracting insight via the web. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to cater for all these applications with one set of guidelines.
And if it’s difficult to apply a one size fits all approach now, what about the future – the range of online techniques continues to grow and evolve rapidly. At the very least, if we have one set of guidelines for soliciting answers from respondents, we should create a different set for how we go about listening and synthesising what is being said on the internet.