person Guy Potter access_time December 10, 2018
Fake News and its Impact on Realtime Surveys

Fake news. Good old fake news. The market research industry’s idea of a living hell. False stories and false data-damaging reputations, altering perceptions and influencing political and societal outcomes. It’s been a very testing time for the public and the media.

These scandals have seen market research come under close scrutiny, making the general public, and marketing departments, across the UK increasingly wary of the authenticity of data.

The Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted that 64% of respondents now couldn’t tell good journalism from falsehoods. As many news stories use statistics, it’s no surprise this industry is under the microscope.

It’s a very confusing time. Who can people trust when it comes to statistics, what does a reputable research house look like, and, how do we know if the data is coming from actual bona fide respondents and not breached data or bots?

Is realtime research still reputable in an age of fake news?

We live in an always-on world, so the need for information quickly, if not realtime, is crucial for business survival. This is no less the case with the research industry. People want and need research, fast. Whether it’s to justify activity to the board, test the viability of a service or product, or a PR campaign, there needs to be fast turnaround.

In that respect, there is definitely a need for realtime research, but it’s important to find a company that uses reputable sources – as well as genuine respondents – to contribute to surveys.

Some of the larger online research companies have access to a pool of hundreds, if not thousands of respondents, which is great for fast turnaround, but before selecting a research house, always do a bit of due diligence. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions about your survey sample.

Smaller realtime research companies, for example, have the ability to get closer to their survey participants and can more easily tell you where and how they are being sourced. There are many ways to attract respondents that adhere to industry guidelines and who have actively consented to take part. Any company that is unable to answer this question effectively and confidently should probably be avoided.

How to spot fake data

Spotting unreliable data can be tricky as fake news looks and sounds convincing.

One viewpoint is that survey results that go against convention are usually not true.

When spotting fake news; in addition to checking the source of a news article – or seeing if it’s been mentioned on other news outlets – take a look at the data as well. Are the stats really high? Does it go against convention? Does it mention who did the research? If these questions raise alarm bells, then you’ve probably got fake data and a fake story.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

For any business, reputation is crucial and something all good research houses will work hard to maintain by remaining, transparent and true to industry guidelines.

In this current climate of reticence and scepticism, it is advisable to do due diligence before selecting your survey provider. If possible, ask around and look for recommendations. It always helps to talk to someone who’s used a particular company before.

Don’t be shy to check their credentials either. Most, if not all, research houses are either part of the Market Research Society (MRS) or ESOMAR. You can also contact these organisations and get an agency selection checklist or advice on picking a reputable company.

Market research shouldn’t be, and isn’t, a dark art. A reputable research house will be open about how they work and the respondents they use. They will also be able to advise on selecting the right survey for your needs.

A lot of research companies, including us here at Maru/Usurv, offer financial incentives when doing a survey. This is a completely normal, ethical and standard practice. If a respondent is taking time out of their day to answer questions, then they should be rewarded accordingly.

It also means there is complete transparency as the respondent is aware and happy to provide their details and give us their opinion. Don’t forget, one of the main reasons for the Cambridge Analytica and Crimson Hexagon scandals was that people were unaware their data was being used.

In general, if respondents are fully aware of how a survey company will use their data, then you’ve got a reputable survey that adheres to GDPR regulation.

Not to mention the most honest and real form of research you can possibly get.

Guy Potter is maru / usurv's head of research and clients.