Consumer insights professionals are always trying to help businesses stay on top of changes in the marketplace. What determines how we live as consumers? What drives changes in what we want, how we shop, and what we buy?
There were a number of hugely significant change agents in the 20th century, not least the automobile. Even now, after nearly 100 years of dominating personal transportation, autos continue to change in fundamental ways as manufacturers address problems such as emissions, mileage and even the need for a human behind the wheel. Consumers continue to respond to each new advance.
Now, in the 21st Century, the key transformation has been the ability of all to journey online to connect with others and exchange information. Its changes, including smartphones for access and social media for posting and sharing, have been faster and more protean than the automobile’s. Like the automobile, the internet needs to address a serious pollution problem –the persistence of fraud.
Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, summed up the challenges of fraud in social media marketing in a recent interview with the New York Times about Twitter’s decision to remove tens of millions of fraudulent accounts. The fake accounts are believed to have been created by online “influencers” to falsely fatten up the reach of their influence. The victims are brands that pay influencers to promote products to their audiences. If these intermediaries are influencing real consumers, then they’re earning their money. If their audience is manufactured, that’s fraud.
Cleaning up the pollution of fraud and falsity can only benefit social platforms, Weed told the Times. “People will believe more and read more on Twitter if they know there is less bot activity and more human activity. I would encourage and ask others to follow.” For its own part, Unilever has announced it would no longer pay influencers who have bolstered their followings by creating fake accounts or purchasing followers from brokers.
The consumer insights industry is by now well aware of the predations of fraudsters who impersonate real consumers by launching survey bots or by taking the same survey multiple times. Data collection that fails to safeguard against fraud threatens consumer insights’ ability to be taken seriously by business decision makers. Consequently, data pollution isn’t a tolerable irritant for market research, akin to catching a cold, but an existential threat comparable to catching Zika.
To avoid being stung, researchers should consider the following:
- Insist that providers be transparent about how they source consumer panels to take your surveys.
- Realize that first-party consumer panels are vetted and validated with multiple opt-ins to separate real people from bots.
- Understand that smartphones now reign over laptops and desktops as survey-taking tools.
- Bone up on how smartphone-specific capabilities such as including requests for “video selfies” in surveys not only elicit especially rich, in-the-moment responses, but certify the respondents as actual human beings.
- Stay away from online surveys, which take place in an unhealthy, fraud-infested environment.
- Learn the difference between in-app mobile surveys, which are instantly embedded in respondents phones and are taken in the safe offline space, and “mobile optimized” or “mobile web” surveys, which misuse smartphones by turning them into mere conduits to the hazardous online space.
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