MTurk and ethics: Do they fit?

MTurk and ethics: Do they fit?

Ok guys, stay with me here. I’m going to talk about Marketing Research and in particular Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk from now on) and some problems to watch out for.


So to a lot of us this stuff may sound super dry and you will be reading this like

Ugh why should we care about research and data?

But this stuff is actually pretty important. As a marketer, no matter how well you think you know your customers, chances are there is still a lot you can learn about them that can help with important decisions. The importance of prioritising market research is widely acknowledged within the marketing profession but it can be hard to convince others, especially considering effective market research can be a very costly exercise.

Three common reasons why businesses fail to effectively implement market research are:

  1. Senior management doesn’t understand the value and therefore doesn’t consider it a priority or use it correctly.
  2. Differing resource issues such as lack of time/motivation/money and technology
  3. Problems with the quality and quantity of the data

Thanks to the new amazing world of technology and the internet market research has evolved a bit more from mall-intercepts and mail-surveys. Now you can do surveys online for money!!! Ok so when I say money I’m talking like 50c a survey or some ridiculously low price but if you want to spend your days completing online forms then there is some cash dollar to be made.


MTurk is one of these places where you can complete a “Human-Intelligence-Task” (HIT)- say, a market research survey – and get paid real money (can confirm. Not Monopoly money). MTurk and other companies like it have skyrocketed in popularity among researchers (from marketing to social sciences and beyond) and for good reason. They are a LOOOTTTT cheaper than other full service market research companies (only a few hundred dollars for a survey versus thousands from other agencies); they have access to a massive number of participants from different demographics; and they are quick and easy (making it a perfect tool for students/university staff without a huge research budget).


However as with many good things, there are some problems.

The biggest issue people have with MTurk is the data sample. People are (very legitimately in my opinion) asking

Who it is that sits around and fills out a whole survey for 50c?

The implication being that they must be real weirdos and not a very accurate representation of the general public.


As well as them being ‘super odd ‘people who enjoy answering questions for very little money the diversity of demographics may not be as great as implied. Most participants so far come from “Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic cultures” who apparently have unusual psychological behaviour in comparison to the other 88% of the world.

There is also a selection bias to contend with where the MTurk survey participants pick your survey out from a long list of potential tasks. Why? Perhaps they have a particular interest or added knowledge in your study topic and this may skew the results.

And while it is a lot cheaper that full service research firms (as mentioned earlier), the costs still do add up. It’s the ever dreaded drip-pricing. It is not just the price for each survey paid to each participant that you organise and pay. Amazon then charges a 40-45% fee on top, (20% base, 20% for batches with more than 10 HITs and another 5% if you use the ‘Masters’ – more qualified participants). So in the end each batch of HITs costs 3 to 4 times as much as your original estimate!


These are just some of the problems that may affect the data from the researchers side, but we must also take a moment to consider the problems from the subjects side which can create ethical dilemmas for researchers. When researcher  signed up to MTurk for a week to see what it was like he was shocked. After completing around 300 surveys over 25 hours Utpal found that he had trouble figuring out his hourly wage on the site. Once he did the math himself he concluded he was making approximately $3-$3.25USD per hour of workNow we know America has a lower minimum wage than we do here in Australia – but let me assure you it is still more than $3.25 an hour!


At this hourly rate and with all the other questionable aspects to sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk – is it ethically right to be getting data from this source or do the benefits outweigh the risks?



The Big Scary World of Social Media

The Big Scary World of Social Media

Lets face it, there is the one moment that everyone has encountered. Where you have progressed to that stage of friendship with someone where you ask them for their Facebook details so you can make it official.

Then there is that one person. That’s the person who tells you that they don’t actually have Facebook.

What? Why? How do you know who your friends are? How am I going to be able to tag you in the comments of funny dog/cat videos now?


You look at them stunned in disbelief.

Is Facebook optional now?

These days that person is the outlier. Social media is omnipresent in Australian society today. The mind-blowing stats speak for themselves:

Social media has not just changed the global landscape of interpersonal connection. Now corporations can join in the conversation, giving consumers unprecedented access to the brands they love (or hate). There are obviously many upsides for brands to be engaging personally with their customers, least of which is the ability to find out what and how their customers think. And then there are many risks, such as finding out what customers really think. And of course the obligatory #fail on behalf of the marketing team.

Top Three Social Media #Fails 

1. #YourTaxis Backfire

Lets just say November 2015 was not a great social media month for the Victorian Taxi Association. Someone from the marketing team thought it would be a great idea to start a #YourTaxis hashtag to call for customer feedback and for people to share their (presumably positive) experiences of taking Taxis in Victoria.

Not surprisingly at all (because can you ever really trust Twitter?), the plan backfired with people sharing absolute horror stories of verbal, physical and sexual abuse they have suffered at the hands of Taxi drivers; disgustingly dirty taxis and the classic that most people have encountered – being refused a ride because the fare is too short.

And then it got worse…

The @yourtaxis twitter account thought it would be a great idea to get in on the spirit of Remembrance Day with this stellar tweet:

The tweet (which spelled Remembrance wrong) created even more backlash for the organisation, which then unsurprisingly fired the agency behind the campaign.

The Takeaway?

Don’t trust the Twitter-sphere to use your #Hashtags in the way they were intended

2. BlackBerry Blues

It seems that the only people who don’t know that BlackBerry is doomed in the world of iPhones and Samsungs, is BlackBerry themselves.

Or maybe not…?

It seems that some pretty cluey BlackBerry employees have already jumped ship.


blackberry up close

When even the @BlackBerry Twitter account is tweeting via an iPhone what chance is there of inspiring the masses to make the switch themselves? And all this AFTER the controversy surrounding BlackBerry Global Creative Director Alicia Keys tweeted from an iPhone after claiming she only uses the BlackBerry 10 (and then claiming she was “hacked”).

The Takeaway?

Its pretty simple really. If you are advertising a product, you should probably not use the competitors product to do it!

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3. Maps can change

Russians are generally more known for their serious manner and Vodka distilling skills than their love of slightly-ignorant jokes. And they DID NOT take it well when Coca-Cola decided to wish them a Happy Holidays with this Tweet.

russia coke.jpeg

While to most people this picture of a snowy Russia may seem innocuous enough, the map is missing Kaliningrad, a Russian province along the Baltic Sea.

And to a lot of Russians, THIS IS A BIG DEAL.

This lead to a new Twitter campaign to #BanCocaCola in Russia.

The Takeaway?

If you are not that good at Geography that’ s fine.

That’s why there is GOOGLE!

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What are some of the classic social media #fails that you have seen? Does this do real damage to brand identity or is it simply forgotten by the next #KimExposedTaylorParty ?