Posts Tagged ‘research’
I’ve argued previously in defence of online anonymity – getting into the pseudonymity debate in the comments. My view since then has not changed, I still believe this is a battle we must not lose. So I’m very excited by some figures just published by Disqus. The platform, which enables people to comment across multiple websites via the same identity, has just released data showing that pseudonymous participation is actually the healthiest type.
According to the data, 61 percent of all Disqus comments are made via pseudonyms, versus 35 percent anonymous and 4 percent using real names (i.e. Facebook). People with pseudonyms also comment 6.5 times more than those who comment anonymously and 4.7 times more than commenters who use real names… Disqus maintains that not only does allowing pseudonyms produce more comments, but the quality of the comments is also better, as measured by likes and replies.
Given they are the largest cross-media platform designed for online commenting – used by blogs and participatory sites everywhere and mainstream media from CNN to Fox News, this is surely a shot in the arm for all us keen on protecting the right to operate online under identities of our choosing. (It might even persuade TechCrunch – the site I first saw this research on – to give up its attachment to real name Facebook comments on its own site)
Both images from Disqus – see the full pseudonyms infographic here
Appreciative Inquiry is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or organization proponents. In so doing, it enhances a system’s capacity for collaboration and change
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.
- 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:
Online ethnography means studying or analysing a social media setting whilst being immersed in it. The roots of ethnography are in anthropology, so I always feel it useful to imagine the curious, intrepid human researcher stepping out into foreign territory and trying their best to make sense of alien surroundings. You are that guy / girl in the shorts with the notepad and the face that doesn’t quite fit.
Well, now we have placed ourselves in the picture, how do we carry out online ethnography?
- Observation: You are trying to make sense of a social situation by reading / listening to people and observing what they do (virtually). This research is thus qualitative, not quantitative
- Field diary: The crucial tool for offline ethnography – this can be useful for online ethnography too. You can read entire conversations and then summarise main themes, characters, etc. in the diary. Try and observe at different times of day and across a spread of settings -you might want to observe at least one thread from every sub-topic, for example. The themes you start to notice can also then be used to develop a more scalable content analysis. A good point of interest can be picking up on community norms, in-jokes, commonly used or community-developed acronyms and jargon
- Participatory choices: Particularly with online ethnography, it is often possible to observe without participants realising we are there. Are you going to participate in the discussion / community / social situation in which you are observing? If you are, you will be able to recount first-hand what it is like to be part of it. However, the act of taking part disturbs the social setting as it was
- Storing conversations: Digital discourse makes for massive data collection opportunities. The sheer volume of material collected can be immense. Therefore, make realistic estimates as to how much you will be able to read in the time you have, and how much it is sensible to collect via copying and pasting / downloading. Be prepared to revise down these estimates once you start the project
- Content analysis: To analyse large-scale conversations, content analysis is a quantitative technique that can complement an ethnography by enabling you to (also) describe what is happening in numbers. This will require conducting initial observations to determine themes you wish to explore. For example, do you want to know how many comments are positive, how many are negative and how many mention directly the subject / product you are interested in? Place these in a matrix / spreadsheet and then keep a tally as you read. This can then give you a result such as 35% of people in the discussion thought the royal wedding was not a valid topic to be posted about on the Facebook page (which is far easier to include in a report)
- Discourse analysis: This is another complementary research method / approach that means analysing what is being said from a linguistic and cultural perspective – most usually revealing, or trying to reveal, motive, mood, irony, humour, meaning, power structures and other such social nuances. Detailed discourse analysis takes a lot of time, so you may have to, again, select a modest sample of the material being studied, to dive in deeper, perhaps at given points in the course of writing the field diary
- Reflexivity: When you conduct ethnography you are an organ of the research. That is, your own biases, cultural prejudices, likes and dislikes will influence how you view what you see. Try as much as possible to consider this – to reveal them in your work (if academic) or try and take account of them as you make choices about what to focus on and subsequent presentation and representation of the observations made. You should not go into an ethnography with the same questions you come out with – you should be, in the midst of carrying out the research, discovering both questions and answers as you draw out insights
- Research partners: Another eye on the social setting can help mediate some of the bias in ethnographic observations. If you and the research partner(s) each carry out observations, for the same amount of time, you can be more confident of a rounded view. However if you are all similar types of people with a similar training / occupation, bear in mind the specific industrial prejudices you may share
- Ethics: Consider whether your research could impact or upset those you are observing. Could the study be seen as a breach of trust, particularly if you have decided to become part of the community? If this research is part of a study for publication in any way, you may wish to reveal to your subjects that you have been studying them. Furthermore, you should consider anonymising all names in the field notes / data collected. Even if the study is for internal, private purposes only, consider how it might look if it got out (no data is ever 100% secure, just ask Sony). If names need to be included in the final write up try using pseudonyms e.g. ab1, ab 2
Bill Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute here highlights moral panics over the Internet and an absence of research into the real implications of the ‘fifth estate,’ which is:
“enabling people to network with other individuals and with information, services and technical resources in ways that support social accountability in business, industry, government, politics and media.”
Such research may take the form, for example, as suggested at the bottom of my thesis (PDF), of empirical research into issue networks online, including consideration of the commercial structures of sites at each node.