Dr Stephen Jeffares
University of Birmingham
On the 28th of last month I attended a workshop hosted by NATCEN with focus on qualitative approaches to social media analysis. With much of the discussion of social media analysis focusing on the challenges of big data, this workshop focused instead on the opportunities of deep data. Despite the rich discussion, I came away thinking this to be a strikingly fragmented scene. Yes we were all e-researchers but I saw more differences than similarities.
The first divide comes between those using found data and those making data through interactions. For some the focus was collecting sets of tweets or blog posts and subjecting this to analysis. For others the focus was conducting online interviews or analysis of online content. Not all of this should be placed in separate category. Many of the same principles of ethical standards apply such as a need to obtain consent. And they say the research strategy needn’t differ because it is online, in the same way you would conduct observations in the same way if in Paris or London. Yes it is different, but we don’t need to rewrite our methods books.
Perhaps where the divide was most apparent, and yet less well discussed during the workshop, was the motivation to do this research. We heard examples of those in marketing where the motivation was informing consumer insight and improving marketing impact. We heard of a focus on local government and its interaction with activist networks. We heard examples of professional practices in social networks and the use of social media by activists involved in global movements. There were times in the conversation where it was difficult to make the links.
At times throughout the day I heard references towards the inability of understanding ‘what was intended’ or ‘what was going on’. “ How do Amazon know if like Sci-fi if I buy the products as gifts”, or how do they know what I tweet about if I do it in a professional capacity. These statements infer the need for a qualitative supplement, in the form of interview or direct engagement or close examination, that could take place either online or off-line. But as others pointed out, it all depends what you are trying to claim. Perhaps Qualitative data can help to enhance the automated consumer insight tools of commerce, but is this all qualitative research is good for?
I’ll think on.