For decades, researchers, marketers and communicators have relied on traditional forms of exploration like surveys and focus groups to learn more about trends in communication, public relations, media studies, psychology and sociology. These methods are great for diving deep into specific patterns, but what about research on a broader scale?
Sociologists have begun to use the extensive amounts of data available via social media to their advantage. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are changing the way people interact with each other and researchers are beginning to take notice.
Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Duncan Watts, recently explained in a Digital Trends article how conducting research via social media has made observing interactions between millions much easier.
“It’s possible to look at the interactions of a billion people these days – we call it Facebook,” said Watts. “We have the potential for a revolution not just in society but in our ability to study society.”
This method of using social platforms to study society as a whole is effective when it comes to crisis communication and planning. By looking at social media posts during a natural disaster or national epidemic, communicators can take note of the reactive patterns of the public to adjust crisis plans accordingly.
Social media works for observing a larger audience because it does not discriminate. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook include users of different ages, races, locations, etc., that may otherwise be difficult to reach and gauge their thoughts with traditional methods. Simple interactions on these networks allow researchers to take a step back and look at big-picture behaviors and responses to a certain topic or issue.
While social media does serve as a great research tool, it does have its limitations. While these outlets reflect reactions in real time, they may not reflect reactions in real life because people generally over exaggerate or filter their wording when writing about their daily life. With this in mind, it’s important to continue to use multiple forms of research in order to avoid any type of bias.
Social media is and will continue to be an excellent tool to look at things in real time as they occur. Opinions and ideas are always changing and social media allows people to stay on top of current trends. As platforms evolve and change, professionals will continue to find new, beneficial uses for social media.