What is Social Media Research?

October 23, 2011
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You know, this seems to be a simple question that ought to have a simple answer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

I’ve been to a number of conferences and conference sessions which have focused solely on social media research and every time, I am taken by surprise when few of the talks are actually about social media research. That is, social media research as I’ve come to understand it.

Some of the talks have been about:

You know, this seems to be a simple question that ought to have a simple answer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

I’ve been to a number of conferences and conference sessions which have focused solely on social media research and every time, I am taken by surprise when few of the talks are actually about social media research. That is, social media research as I’ve come to understand it.

Some of the talks have been about:

  • Focus groups that take place in the online space
  • Surveys that are conducted on the internet
  • Sampling techniques that collect responders from the online space
  • Qualitative groups that incorporate digital photos and videos uploaded into online research communities

Perhaps I’m a little biased since I’ve been so heavily focused in my little corner of the research space but I don’t think any of those are social media research.

  • Focus groups that take place online are online focus groups
  • Surveys on the internet are online surveys
  • Sampling from the online space is online sampling
  • Qualitative groups that take place online are online communities

These are all traditional research methods that take place online instead of offline. Social media is not their inner guts and glory, but rather a tool that facilitates the overall methodology.

On the other hand, at the heart of social media research is social media. Social media research measures social media data. It scores social media data. It samples social media data. It creates norms with social media data. Without social media data, there would be no social media research. There WOULD be online focus groups and there WOULD be online surveys but alas, there would be no social media research. There is no other way but the social media research way to listen to naturally occuring conversations that take place via social media.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Do an online focus group. Run an online community. But listen with social media research.