Social Media Methods
Meet Dr Wasim Ahmed, a Visiting Fellow in Digital Business at Newcastle University Business School, who uses social network analysis to analyse social media.
Social media are understood to be “web-based platforms that enable and facilitate users to generate and share content, allowing subsequent online interactions with other users (where users are usually, but not always, individuals)” (Social Media Research Group, 2016). Social media platforms offer an ever-expanding resource for researchers and are increasingly used to recruit participants, generate data, and disseminate findings. Social media research is used within a wide range of disciplines including media and communication, critical data studies, sociology, political science, digital civics and practice related research, among many more.
There are many different ways to use social media platforms within research and the approach taken will affect the data collection and analysis techniques chosen. For example, using social media platforms to circulate surveys and find research participants has significantly different implications to using platforms to generate quantitative user data. There are a diverse range of quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods approaches to conducting social media research.
Data generation methods include using application programming interfaces (APIs), purchasing data through official resellers, ‘scraping’ data from the website or screenshotting social media pages, to name a few (Mayr and Weller, 2017).
The type of data generated can vary widely according to the platform and purpose of the project and may include network data, tracked activities such as likes and shares, images, or screenshots from profiles (Mayr and Weller, 2017). Examples of analysis techniques used in social media research includes the coding of images and non-text data, narrative analysis of social media text, geospatial analysis and using software such as R to analyse big data.
There are many benefits associated with using social media as a research tool including the availability and volume of real-time data (such as geotagging) and the cost and time-effective nature of access when compared with other methods. Considerations of social media research approaches include the increasing governance by social media platforms, a lack of representation of populations (Ruths and Pfeffer, 2014) and the presence of automated ‘bots’ which can skew the validity of the data. These methods also provide new ethical issues to consider for example around consent, privacy, and data protection. The SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods (2017) provides a useful overview of issues around ethics, data storage, related philosophies, and case studies of social media related research projects.
- Majid Khosravinik - Senior Lecturer in Digital Media & Discourse Studies and Chair of Board of Studies
- Sebastian Popa – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics
- Steve Walls – Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies
- Mayr, P., and Weller, K., (2017). Think Before You Collect: Setting Up a Data Collection Approach for Social Media Studies. In: Sloan, L., and Quan-Haase, A., (2017). The SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods. London: SAGE Ch.8.
- Ruths and Pfeffer, (2014), Social media for large studies of behavior, Science, 346(6213), pp.1063-1064.
- Social Media Research Group, (2016). Using social media for social research: An introduction. (Accessed 15 January 2021) <Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/524750/GSR_Social_Media_Research_Guidance_-_Using_social_media_for_social_research.pdf>