Understanding use of social media in research

Photo by Greyweed 


The principles of doing good research apply whatever the media. Develop clear research objectives to achieve your aim, assemble appropriate research methods and weigh up cost, time and quality in your research design. It is claimed that use of social media has made research easier to do. In many respects this is so. Research can be done faster and cheaper. Nevertheless, you cannot simply use it for everything. Think about why you want to use it and be aware it will not answer every type of research question. The old maxim of having good data is still relevant. Meaning that you want access to appropriate data with the right quality for the question(s) you want to answer. For many the speed and relatively low-cost is a trade-off against the quality of research data. This is often considered a price worth paying. In the age of ‘Big Data’ it is assumed by many that all you need to do is find the right big data set to address your question. However, if you think about this a little you will see why this assumption is flawed. Your research question might demand a different approach. For example, if you want to understand reasons for something happening the way it does a large data set suited to answering a different sort of question such as ‘what’ not ‘why’ may not be appropriate.

Planning is the key to doing good research. The first step is to establish your research aim and specific objectives to be achieved. This should give you some idea about the nature of the data you will need to access. Clues may also be given by others who have completed similar types of study to yours. Research reports indicate what works and what has been less successful, so read them. If you have a good idea before you rush to implement it, establish viability. Why has no one else done this? Is it feasible, sensible or are there potential problems with the approach you are proposing?

Once you have decided what data sources you will use the next step is to consider what you will do with the data once it is collected. What type of analysis will you need to do? Will it be quantitative or qualitative? Are there particular techniques or tools that you can employ? Do you have the necessary skills and training to do the analysis? Will you need help? These are some options to think about carefully before you progress to far.

Social media data tends to be unstructured and you need to think about how your research study can provide structure to make sense of the data. Combining different types of data may provide your research study with better understanding of the research question. For example, you may gain better insights if you combine survey data to establish measures or hypotheses with transaction data or observations and qualitative methods such as interview data  (individual or focus groups) to understand opinions of your participants. The latter regarding opinion is where social media is able to provide plenty of that. The caveat of course is have you accurately identified the target audience that you want to glean data from. If you do not do this carefully the research will be flawed. For example, if you wanted to know the potential to increase your market share for bicycles and you simply target existing owners of bicycles the research would be limited. You should really be asking different groups of people who may be persuaded to buy a bicycle in future such as those using other means of transport or doing other forms of exercise.

I began by stating the principles of research design apply to social media as much as any other data source. I trust this article has given you reasons for my statement. You can read more about how market research is moving forward in this are by accessing the article below.

Further reading:


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