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Social Media Research

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The fact that social media research is now being published by peer-reviewed health and social science journals, apart from proceedings from conferences that intersect computer science, linguistics, and technology, indicates that social media has emerged as a respected data source. Recommendations for investigators who are considering research with social media data are as follows:
  1. Determine whether your research question can be appropriately answered using social media data, given the benefits and limitations of social media data.
  2. Convene an investigative team with an understanding of social media data; textual analysis; natural language processing and computational linguistics; predictive analytics and data mining; and, if using API, programming and database management.
  3. Consider your search terms carefully, and use other sources to assess whether they best represent the concept you wish to study.
  4. Consider the time frame that will best enable you to answer your research question before selecting your sample.
  5. To the degree that funding allows, use respected vendors that can provide access to the full social media data streams. Budget calculations should include costs associated with cleaning freely obtained data. Prepare to spend more time, energy, and money on data monitoring, management, and cleaning than you would on survey data.
  6. If working with a large volume of data that are challenging to code because of nuances in language, rare occurrences, or topic complexity, consider crowdsourcing.
  7. Document and publish all of your decisions regarding methodologies— including information on vendors and tools used; the process of identifying search terms and the terms used; data sampling and characteristics; data management, cleaning, and adjustment; and coding used in content analysis—so other investigators can learn from your experience,


Recommendations taken from journal article: Annice E. Kim, Heather M. Hansen, Joe Murphy, Ashley K. Richards, Jennifer Duke, Jane A. Allen, Methodological Considerations in Analyzing Twitter Data, JNCI Monographs, Volume 2013, Issue 47, December 2013, Pages 140–146.

Things to consider before starting your research

There are many ways to use social media in academic research. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to know what others are saying on social media? Are you looking for a collection of social media posts to search through?
  • Do you want to find research about the phenomenon of social media (its psychological effects, user behavior patterns, etc.)?
  • Are you looking for social media sources that you can export or download in order to "mine" (perform some automated or algorithmic analysis) the content? 
  • Are you interested in social media content over time, or a particular date range? 
  • Are you interested in any social media content, or a particular source (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.)

Keeping these considerations in mind will help you narrow down your options regarding where to find appropriate social media content for your research needs.

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