Social media has become an integral part of the vast online community today. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have millions of users logging in regularly for staying in touch with friends and family, discussing contemporary issues, pouring out their thoughts and feelings and checking out ’posts’ and ‘shares’ in general. With such a large pool, these platforms can become a major source of data collection for online researchers. Especially in the commercial sector, you will find that more conventional methods of data collection are preferred over social media. Even if these platforms are used by the researchers, the visual approach is used, which typically monitors the flow of information and visualizes it graphically.
Today, we have a wealth of useful monitoring tools which makes it easy to follow keywords, capture relevant tweets and posts of a particular topic or area of interest. These tools can be used to collate the ‘live’ or ‘immediate’ experiences felt by the users regarding real issues, for which the data is collected. In this way, pertinent data regarding day-to-day activities can be collected in exactly the way practical users present it. This data amounts to genuine, authentic user feedback and is very useful in drawing inferences that can elevate the quality of product and services for which the research is conducted.
The steps discussed below need to be followed for proper implementation of the technique.
The first step in this process is identifying or defining the search phrases or keywords that will form part of the data search. These could take any form – keywords or phrases, accounts or hashtags. A team meeting is a great way to brainstorm and collate all possible forms that social media users may refer to the product, service or issue in question.
Identify the Tool
There are many research tools available online for gathering data from social media – from free resources to dedicated premium services. Free resources are a good place for beginning the search on social platforms which allow data search for free. However, keep in mind that the security settings of different platforms may not permit the same amount of ease for data search. So, identify the platform used by most of your users and start from there. Next, you may decide whether or not to opt for paid but more authentic and larger data pool for your research. The allocated research budget may influence the implementation of this step.
Start Data Gathering
Once the selection of the tool (or tools) is finalized, data gathering becomes progressively easier. For a free search tool such as the Twitter Search, the process is as simple as running a search and saving the results in a file diligently. However, as specified before, different social media platforms have different security levels and proportionately difficult to access.
Analyze for Inferences
After data collation from social media in the above manner, the next step is making sense out of it. This is done in relation to the keywords or other common or repetitive texts that may come out during analysis. Manual sorting may be done by highlighting or annotating the relevant user posts in social media; this also weeds out irrelevant posts or ‘trolls’ from the data pool. A look at the pertinent data sheets thus collated may give us insights, which are based on actual user experience or momentary feedback. For a sustained approach, you may consider feeding your finds and data sheets into a digital tool.
Points to Remember About Using this Technique
As we can see, the above steps will churn out useful data that gives clear, fresh user insights on your subject as denoted by the keywords or hashtags. This approach works very well when taking feedback of a service or product with a wide user base, impromptu research on user reactions or similar other data gathering requirements. With properly framed, contextual and relevant keywords and phrases, we can get user pertinent and real user responses with no data protection or infringement issues.
To conclude, social media research is an easy-to-use and handy tool to gather data and draw inferences based on real-time user experience or feedback. However, for solidity in the data pool, you may consider using other research methods in tandem for an all-encompassing inference. Overall, social media platform research is a great informal tool, which is free to use and reliable in its output.