Finn Raben

The final session of Day 1 at ESOMAR’s 3D conference in Miami,  hosted a panel discussion whose challenge it was to review the topic : “How public is social media? Should some things stay private?”

Chaired by Mike Cooke, ESOMAR Vice-President, the panel consisted of Annie Pettit of Research Now, Manila Austin of Communispace, Reg Baker of Market Strategies International , Tom De Ruyck of InSites Consulting and Adam Phillips, Chair of the ESOMAR Professional Standards Committee.

The scene for the panel discussion had been set earlier in the day when Opening Keynote Philip Sheldrake, suggested that with the explosion of information now available, the question facing us is whether this new landscape of data is utopian or dystopian. Philip then went on to suggest that in this new world, there was a clear and urgent need for a new privacy framework. Dominic Harrison, of the Future Foundation, also touched upon this theme when he suggested that there was the growth of a new digital etiquette, fostered by the amount of time we are now spending online.

In his opening remarks to the panel, Mike echoed the challenge of : utopia or dystopia, and invited the panellists to submit their perspectives.

– Annie felt that trust was all important, and that while many people were happy to have their space, time and commentary used by others, a significant proportion weren’t….thus any new framework would need to cater to both franchises.

– Manila spoke about the difference between research communities and advocacy communities, suggesting that the utilisation of information from these two sources had different implications, and that for research communities, consent was still paramount.

– Tom mentioned that so long as we behaved ethically as researchers, most things were possible-the question there being, how do we define “ethical?”

– Reg suggested that as Social Media is just another modality for reaching out to participants/respondents, we simply need to  ensure that the “conditions” for interaction are relevant to the medium….the challenge here being that as no social norm’s are available to be translated into law, we are still in the “research” phase of establishing what those norms are.

– Adam then finally suggested that as a profession of note and standing, we must have ethics or guidelines that govern our behaviour. These ethics are paramount in helping to safeguard the trust of respondents and clients in our profession, and represent a key USP against those less inclined to maintain quality and ethical standards.

While there was some debate around what the guidelines should ultimately entail, there was common acceptance that breaches of accepted behaviour standards impact not just the “naughty” company, they also cast a long shadow of doubt over our entire industry. The current ESOMAR guidelines – crafted by practitioners in the social media arena- are designed as a work in progress … kick the tyres, try them out, and let us know what you think of them, so that we can all agree those standards that will provide us with that USP.

Regretfully, the constraints of a two-day conference agenda meant that we were unable to let the debate run as long as we would have wished, and while the discussion did continue in to the evening entertainment, and was a popular point of discussion over dinner, should you have a point or comment to  make, please do so!!

Finn Raben is Director General of ESOMAR