social media

Social Media Research & Exploring Self-Presentation in the Online Social Context

A discussion of social media research design would be a bit shallow if devoid of the role technology plays in altering any one person’s true reality.  Computer-mediated communication, online impression management, and self-presentation tactics are just a few of the concepts often discussed in conjunction with how someone communicates (voluntarily or otherwise) via the electronic medium.  Computer-mediated communication is not new but an idea that quickly sprouted when virtual reality began to receive lots of attention in the 1990’s.  In 1996 I wrote an article for the American Marketing Association –“Virtual research exists, but how real is it?” – touching on this very issue.

Back in 1996 I stated that online research “provides the researcher with a solution that is sensitive to both budget and time constraints,” a key justification for online research designs today.  Because our understanding of how people think and communicate in the online world was cloudy at best, I go on in this article to offer “fast, economical” alternatives to online designs –

  • Developing an annual corporate research program (while minimizing costly ad-hoc research)
  • Reducing sample size in survey as well as qualitative research (e.g., greater use of mini groups)
  • Cutting out research services that are underutilized, e.g., written transcripts or full reports that are rarely read
  • Asking for “volume-discount pricing” from research providers
  • Moving the research function up the corporate ladder to create efficiencies and focus on less-costly design solutions

While these alternative approaches are as appropriate today as they were 15 years ago, the appreciable advancement of online technology has greatly increased the viability of online research designs.  And, although the near silence in the marketing research community concerning computer-mediated communication is a bit deafening, it is encouraging to see MarketTools TrueSample and other initiatives designed to address online respondent fraud.

But what about social media research where validation is difficult?  Moving forward, it would be useful for social media researchers (corporate side and consultants) to entertain the ideas espoused by those in communication studies, psychology, computer science, and other disciplines that examine online behavior and attitude formation. For example, Jenny Rosenberg and Nichole Egbert discuss in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication their study of the “self-presentation tactics” Facebook users employ to maintain a particular impression on their intended audience.  And Stephanie Rosenbloom in her New York Times article, “Putting Your Best Cyberface Forward,” references a variety of sources including Mark Leary, a psychologist at Duke, who studies impression management and explores the images people choose to create of themselves in the online sphere.

In the relatively controlled environment of online survey and community-style research designs, we may be learning to identify whether there is a dog at the other end of the computer or mobile phone screen; but social media researchers are strapped with the more daunting task of understanding how people think and who they choose to become in the virtually social context.  This – and its ramifications for research design – are worthy of more dialog.

Gamification is Nothing New to Marketing Research

Gamification has historically played an important role in marketing research.  Researchers have known for a very long time that participation is rarely motivated by altruism or the simple joy of answering our questions, and that something more is needed to gain respondents’ attention and engage them throughout the research process.  In the old days, research outside the ivory towers of academia was not as wide spread and certainly not as familiar to the general public as it is today.  Back then researchers could find all types of “virgin” respondents – consumers, business people, non-profit stakeholders, employees – many of whom really did believe in the idea that their participation was contributing to a larger good, who rallied to the research industry’s cry “Your Opinion Makes A Difference,” and who actually enjoyed the research experience.  Indeed, it doesn’t Read Full Text

Meaning in Social Media Research: Do You Know What You Are Hearing?

Tom Webster in his September 8th post stated the obvious when he asserted that social media monitoring is not the same thing as social media research.  Let me add that the reason monitoring or “listening in” on the conversations that whirl within the Web is not research – at least not primary research – is because it lacks meaning.  The absence of meaning in social media monitoring stems from its failure to meet design standards or address many of the design issues discussed in Research Design Review:  transparency, controls, maximizing individual response, error and validity in qualitative research, the relationship between contexts and truths, qualitative analysis, gender differences, and selection biasThese and other principles in design exist to achieve the overarching objective of most (if not all) research with human subjects which is to find meaning in how people think, by actually wading into their streams of consciousness while making the interconnections within individuals as well as across the research sample.

That is why there is no ‘there there’ in social media listening.  There is no meaning in customers’ comments on Facebook (or Twitter or review sites) beyond the idea that customers are really angry about one thing, happy about another thing, or just obsessive about something else.  That is why it is delusional to liken social media monitoring to an online version of focus group research (which some have done) and not useful to escalate monitoring within the organization simply because it gets the attention of top management (not unlike the NPS score discussed last month in this blog).

What would be useful would be the implementation of real social media research that utilizes quality design guidelines.  That is, a research design built around known and defined parameters that achieve a transparent view of the variables and result in honest insights.  Real social media research pursues meaning by crafting Read Full Text