Market Research Ethics: Consideration in Online Surveys

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Posted Jan 06, 2012

When doing online surveys, we always want to treat our survey participants with respect. We are inviting them to take our surveys, and we want them to feel comfortable giving candid feedback. We want them to know we value their opinions. We also want them to have a pleasant experience so that they will comply with future research invitations. So that’s why it’s important to practice proper market research ethics throughout the survey creation process.

Market researchers should avoid acting in any way that will be perceived, even if unintentionally, as unethical. Here are four specific behaviors to avoid in the interest of maintaining ethical standards in online research.

Avoid Sugging

Sugging sounds funny, but it’s just shorthand for “selling under the guise of research.” Any market research professional will tell you that this practice is unethical. If you approach people to participate in research, it’s research. You should not use the information you gather from respondents for lead generation, sales prospecting, or any other direct sales effort. In the United States, there have even been cases where complaints have been filed with the FTC against large companies that practiced sugging.

Get permission

In online surveys, we sometimes ask people for open-ended responses. Sometimes, we get very powerful quotes this way. In some cases, you might like to use these quotes in marketing materials. But remember, this is research—we can’t quote someone without their express permission. If the survey was done using your own list, you may be able to contact the respondent to ask permission. But do so cautiously—some people find this very off-putting.

Avoid unwanted follow-up

Imagine you have done a survey, a customer says something really negative, and you want to talk with them about it. Before you do, consider these questions: will the contact be welcome? Will it make them less likely to respond to your surveys candidly in the future? Will they feel they are being intruded upon? Can you talk to them in a way such that they won’t feel attacked or interrogated?If you are doing a customer satisfaction survey, you can simply ask them in the survey itself to indicate if they would be receptive to a follow-up on any concerns that the researcher might discover during the research process. This way they have opted-in.Be honest.This is one of the main cornerstone behind all market research ethics. Don’t misrepresent the survey in order to “trick” respondents into a desired behavior. The most blatant examples of this are seen in political surveys that are really requests for donations. Have you ever started a survey that asks about your political views, and then at the end asks for a donation? How did you feel about that experience? It is important to avoid creating any sense that your research efforts are dishonest.

Ethics in Online Surveys

The most obvious risk to you as a survey creator will be in cases where you use your own lists with the AYTM platform. But market research ethics are also critical in surveys using the AYTM panel. At AYTM, we have a high-quality panel and we need to handle the members with care. By respecting their privacy, and treating them honestly, we can keep them engaged and interested in helping with your future research needs.

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