Qualitative methods for social media research

Webinar, 5 February: I tried to watch the webinar twice, but no luck- I’ve used Elluminate several times before, so maybe it’s a Java issue – I’ve had no end of problems since I upgraded last week. There’s a discussion page on Methodspace, but you can call me qualitatively out for now!

Event, 28 January: suspect there was no wifi at the venue, as no tweets were made during the session. A report is now available, dated 13 Feb.

Following the #nsmnss chat and event on quantitative methods came a chat on qualitative methods on 20 November, with an event scheduled for 28 January – see Deep data: digging into social media and the Tunisian Revolution case study for an intro to the issues.

Below are my notes paraphrased from the chat.

What are the biggest methodological challenges when using qualitative methods in social media research?

  • issues relating to public and private space; ethics;  both for observation and use of posts
  • ethics panels need to be educated about the real risks – difficult to just apply F2F ethics to online; there are unique and untested ethical considerations in socmed research
  • generalising with small (but rich) sample data; the volume of data
  • following people across multiple platforms; does this create potential ethical issues? depends on consent
  • what research questions are best served by social media; theoretical frameworks
  • negotiating your online identity as a researcher; how you become seen as a professional in online spaces
  • social media lets us study circulation, but ideas circulate in other places, too; ie life online is part of life offline – > no easy distinction between on and off line research? can we limit just to online? (depends on the research qu)
  • the digital divide – need to acknowledge when sampling OR can get to hard to reach groups, different access to populations
  • qualitative research lends itself very well to socmed research

Are social media affecting the way we do qual research, and how?

  • can study globally with diverse participants and little money!
  • allows geotagging of data
  • unprecedented size and depth of datasets updated in real time
  • re-interpretation of qual methodologies and methods – chance to be a pioneer!
  • options for using visual, verbal, textual data to create rich stories
  • research tasks are more fragmented, requiring more organisation and integration skills
  •  type of data influences design + analysis; advantage: rich + interesting, disadvantage: more steps to analysis

Does qualitative research using online social platforms change the relationship we have as researchers with participants? How?

  • depends on design –
  • analysing content rather than observing real time interaction has fewer proximity risks
  • if interviewing online lack of social cues is key (but with video etc can grasp many cues and non-verbals)
  • blurs boundarie s- to be recognised in a community u need to be part of it
  • similarities to participant observation issues in offline research
  • difficult to research a community you are part of, but presence not so obvious
  • ethics – how we manage dynamics, harm, disclosure etc when not in the same physical space
  • the more you open up online the greater the return – really interesting connections are made that wouldn’t happen with more distance
  • the ‘participant observer’ – like anthropologists, risk of going native?
  • can online create new cues? ways of typing, acronyms, etc?  new/replacement cues needed, but not the same amount of info and there can be cultural issues; need common meanings
  • for people with disabilities, sometimes online means MORE cues and better communication
  • email/text are great for individuals who are non-verbal or need more time to formulate responses

What tools do you use for analysis online qual data? Do existing tools work or is there a need for new tools?

  • QSR’s NCapture, works with NVivo 10 to capture and analyse tweets, activity on Facebook pages and in LinkedIn groups
  • for the statistically inclined – TwitteR

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