UK's first Doctor of Social Media calls for global standards on social data

Tim Maytom

The hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who analyse and interpret social media data must unite to create a global steering group focused on cross-industry guidelines for the ethical handling of social data. That's the opinion of Dr Jillian Ney, founder and director of 'social listening' firm The SI Lab and the first person in the UK to gain a PhD in the analysis of social data.

"I started working with social data in 2007 as an academic researcher," said Dr Ney. "It's incredible that 11 years later, there are still no globally-accepted, cross-sectoral guidelines, frameworks or models that the rapidly-growing professional social intelligence community can turn to for advice on ethical best practice."

The call for the creation of a global steering group that will establish social data analysis as a professional discipline in its own right comes following high profile scandals like Cambridge Analytica, and Dr Ney warns that failure to do so risks more controversies, and could lead to governments and major social networks severely restricting data access to researchers and other analysts. A steering group would enable practitioners to proactively self-regulate in a way that encouraged major networks to provide more data access, rather than less.

"There are now hundreds of thousands of people who analyse social data as their main responsibility at work," said Dr Ney. "Some have a research background, others marketing, others PR or business intelligence, so there are a lot of different standards and practices going on, some more ethical than others. The big worry is that another negative data scandal will result in knee-jerk legislation from governments and further restrictions on data access by the major social networks - moves that could seriously hamper th development of social listening in the future."

"Social listening has now become a core part of our clients' digital strategies, enabling deep audience insight, guiding content strategy, informing new product development and many other critical use cases," said Adrian Cockle, principal consultant at Hootsuite. "With the ability to use data at a scale like never before, it's ever more important to have a body to consider the ethical and business frameworks that we, as social marketers, operate within."