Conducting a simple Facebook page ethnography

Posted on: June 2, 2011

How do you analyse a Facebook page? Social media monitoring tools such as Radian6 and Sysomos give a useful range of quantitative data – and a measure of ‘sentiment.’ But to have a true understanding of Facebook page engagement you need to do a ‘deep dive’ into what is happening qualitatively – to discover the real nature of the interaction taking place.

A great advantage for the ethnographer with Facebook pages is wall posts are public – it’s just a matter of hitting the page and observing what’s happening. The main reasons you may want to analyse a Facebook page are:

  • Developing a deep understanding of your Facebook page users
  • Checking out how your competition are using Facebook
  • Conducting academic research into use of the platform by businesses, government or non-governmental organisations
  • Getting under the skin of potential partners or sponsors
  • Identifying how your target market are using the platform

Begin by assessing these questions on the two main ways people interact on Facebook pages: the wall (in reality this usually means their own newsfeeds) and campaigns. Especially if you are analysing more than one page – build a spreadsheet or table to help keep order to your findings. If you are delegating this task to someone else, be very clear about what you are trying to understand from the research – and as with all ethnography – be prepared for the questions asked, and categorisations set at the beginning, to change and morph in light of findings.

The wall

    • Can fans make wall posts or just the page owner?
    • Itemise each wall post:
      • What is it? A comment, question, blogpost link, poll, embedded video or link to video?
      • What is it about? Does it have a content / engagement theme? By scoring posts on this, you will be able to see overall what themes and topics the page is running with, and how well they are doing.
      • What date and time was it posted, and who by?
      • How many likes does it have?
      • How many comments does it have?
      • What is the tone of the comments? Positive? Negative?
      • Is the page owner responding to the comments?
      • Are people liking and responding to others’ comments?


    • Is there a campaign running? If so, what is it? How does it work? Does it use an app?
    • Is there a mobile / offline element to it?
    • Is it connected to other social platforms?
    • Does it include an incentive or competition?
    • Are people able to like and comment?
    • If the answer to the above is yes, treat each element that can be liked and commented on as a separate item for analysis as with wall posts

Once you have completed the above for 10+ Facebook wall posts you should have a sense of what kind of content the page is publishing and how people feel about the brand, the products and services they offer, and their Facebook content. This will provide useful insight for your Facebook strategy – whether you have studied your own or someone else’s page.

Two other things:

  • Time – allow a reasonable amount of time to read and digest what is happening for each Facebook post – if you are aiming to analyse 10+ posts – but some have hundreds of comments as in the skittles example above – each one could take an hour to read. Don’t rush – it’s better to analyse less posts than to make unfounded conclusions because you are skim-reading and not getting a real sense of what is being said
  • Don’t forget research ethics – for example, don’t unnecessarily collect people’s names and associate them with comments if you do not absolutely have to for the purposes of your study. Even if all the comments are public on Facebook, imagine how people will feel, if their comments are taken out of context and used elsewhere – if your report ends up online intentionally or unintentionally.

Also – if you are looking for successful pages to compare to / add to those you are studying – try:

6 Responses to "Conducting a simple Facebook page ethnography"

Great advice!
It’s true that automated tools like Sysomos can provide you with some valuable insights and hard numbers as to what is going on on your fan page, but like most social media, it’s the qualitative stuff that will also have a lot of meaning. Tools are great for helping in getting an understanding of what’s going on, but real analysis needs to be looked at by humans with real emotions and thoughts.

Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

Thanks Sheldon – I have always found triangulating quantitative measures with ethnographic understanding, gleaned by interacting with Facebook users as well as watching them, is the best way to get a sense of the people you are trying to reach on Facebook. One is very much complimented by the other.


Great tips for conducting a simple Facebook page ethnography and about respecting the privacy of the user. Thanks for giving us a mention!

Best wishes,
Trish, @Dayngr
Community Manager | Radian6

Good read. Also please have a look at SocialGuru video and how it can help you monitor, analyse the SM mentions and win over your competitors.

Great approach to leveraging fan pages for qualitative research. Do you happen to have any examples/case studies of this approach? Thanks!

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