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Researching social media: preliminary readings on methodology

January 31, 2011

Last changed Mon 14 Feb 2011: see also Biblio page

NB – This is work in progress, the focus being on methodology, more precisely on how social media have been researched so far.

Agichtein, Eugene, Carlos Castillo, Debora Donato, Aristides Gionis, and Gilad Mishne. 2008. Finding high-quality content in social media. In Proceedings of the international conference on Web search and web data mining (WSDM ’08). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 183-194.

…we identify a set of features of social media and interactions that can be applied to the task of content quality identification. In particular, we model the intrinsic content quality (Section 3.1), the interactions between content creators and users (Section 3.2), as well as the content usage statistics (Section 3.3). All these feature types are used as an input to a classifier that can be tuned for the quality definition for the particular media type (Section 3.4). In the next section, we will expand and refine the feature set specifically to match our main application domain of community question/answering portals.

Akshay Java, Xiaodan Song, Tim Finin, and Belle Tseng. 2007. Why we twitter: understanding microblogging usage and communities. In Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 workshop on Web mining and social network analysis (WebKDD/SNA-KDD ’07). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 56-65.

In this paper, we present our observations of the microblogging phenomena by studying the topological and geographical properties of Twitter’s social network…The dataset used in this study was created by monitoring this public timeline for a period of two months starting from April 01, 2007 to May 30, 2007. A set of recent updates were fetched once every 30 seconds. There are a total of 1,348,543 posts from 76,177 distinct users in this collection.

boyd, danah, and Nicole Ellison (2007) “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 1,

These pieces collectively provide insight into some of the ways in which online and offline experiences are deeply entwined. Using a relational dialectics approach, Kyung-Hee Kim and Haejin Yun analyze how Cyworld supports both interpersonal relations and self-relation for Korean users. They trace the subtle ways in which deeply engrained cultural beliefs and activities are integrated into online communication and behaviors on Cyworld—the online context reinforces certain aspects of users’ cultural expectations about relationship maintenance (e.g., the concept of reciprocity), while the unique affordances of Cyworld enable participants to overcome offline constraints. Dara Byrne uses content analysis to examine civic engagement in forums on BlackPlanet and finds that online discussions are still plagued with the problems offline activists have long encountered. Drawing on interview and observation data, Lee Humphreys investigates early adopters’ practices involving Dodgeball, a mobile social network service. She looks at the ways in which networked communication is reshaping offline social geography.

Other articles in this collection illustrate how innovative research methods can elucidate patterns of behavior that would be indistinguishable otherwise. For instance, Hugo Liu examines participants’ performance of tastes and interests by analyzing and modeling the preferences listed on over 127,000 MySpace profiles, resulting in unique “taste maps.” Likewise, through survey data collected at a college with diverse students in the U.S., Eszter Hargittai illuminates usage patterns that would otherwise be masked. She finds that adoption of particular services correlates with individuals’ race and parental education level.

Brake, David. (2009). Shaping the ‘Me’ in MySpace: The Framing of Profiles on a Social Network Site in Digital Storytelling. In Lundby, K (Eds)  Digital storytelling, mediatized stories. Self-representations in New Media: 285-300.

The author interviewed MySpace users about their profile creation and maintenance.

Byrne, D. N. (2008), Public Discourse, Community Concerns, and Civic Engagement: Exploring Black Social Networking Traditions on Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13: 319–340.

This study explores community life on a black social network site, BlackPlanet, to see whether and how participants engage in public discussions; if these discussions center on issues considered to be critical to the black community; and if so, the extent to which participants’ online networks are used to foster some level of civic engagement. Participation analysis, content analysis, and a thematic analysis were used to analyze public discussions on the site’s community forums.

Cox, A., Clough, P. & Marlow, J. (2008) “Flickr: a first look at user behaviour in the context of photography as serious leisure.” Information Research 13 (1),

Introduction. The use of Flickr, a photo sharing Website, is examined in the context of amateur photography as a ‘serious leisure’ pursuit. Method. Eleven telephone interviews were carried out with users of Flickr, using an open-ended interview schedule to explore use of the system within the context of the interviewees’ photographic practices.  Analysis. Practices described are set against theoretical considerations from the literature, specifically the alternate paradigms of the photographic club and the photo magazine. Sontag’s cultural critique of photography is an important, challenging reference point.

Crawford, Kate. (2009). Following you: Disciplines of listening in social media. Journal of Media & Culture Studies, 23 (4), 525-535.

Very interesting article about how people ‘tune into’ Twitter but no word on methodology. Presumably it is based on secondary sources.

Dann, Stephen. “Twitter content classification” First Monday [Online], Volume 15 Number 12 (24 November 2010)

This paper delivers a new Twitter content classification framework based sixteen existing Twitter studies and a grounded theory analysis of a personal Twitter history. It expands the existing understanding of Twitter as a multifunction tool for personal, profession, commercial and phatic communications with a split level classification scheme that offers broad categorization and specific sub categories for deeper insight into the real world application of the service.

Eguiluz, V. M., Zimmermann, M. G., Cela? Conde, C. J., & Miguel, M. S. (2005). Cooperation and the Emergence of Role Differentiation in the Dynamics of Social Networks. American Journal of Sociology, 110(4), 977-1008. doi: 10.1086/428716.

(no social media)

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), article 1.

This article is based on a study that examines the relationship between use of Facebook, a popular online social network site, and the formation and maintenance of social capital. In addition to assessing bonding and bridging social capital, the study explores a dimension of social capital that assesses one’s ability to stay connected with members of a previously inhabited community. One of the findings is that Facebook usage was found to interact with measures of psychological well-being, suggesting that it might provide greater benefits for users experiencing low self-esteem and low life satisfaction (Lucy How)

Eyrich, N., Padman, M.L., Sweetser, K.D. PR practitioners’ use of social media tools and communication technology (2008) Public Relations Review, 34 (4), pp. 412-414. (SURVEY)

As social media moves from “buzz word” status to strategic tool, more practitioners are developing skills related to this online communication technology. This study surveyed working public relations practitioners about their adoption of 18 social media tools and their perception on the growth of social media trends in public relations practice. Results provide an overview of the adoption of social media, as a whole, in the industry.

Gilbert, E. and K. Karahalios 2009. Predicting tie strength with social media.In Proceedings of the Conferece on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI’09),

Abstract: Social media treats all users the same: trusted friend or total stranger, with little or nothing in between. In reality, relationships fall everywhere along this spectrum, a topic social science has investigated for decades under the theme of tie strength. Our work bridges this gap between theory and practice. In this paper, we present a predictive model that maps social media data to tie strength. The model builds on a dataset of over 2,000 social media ties and performs quite well, distinguishing between strong and weak ties with over 85 % accuracy. We complement these quantitative findings with interviews that unpack the relationships we could not predict. The paper concludes by illustrating how modeling tie strength can improve social media design elements, including privacy controls, message routing, friend introductions and information prioritization.

Haewoon, Kwak, Changhyun, Lee, Park, Hosung, and Moon, Sue. (2010). What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?. 19th International World Wide Web (WWW) Conference.Raleigh, North Carolina April.

The goal of this paper is to study the topological characteristics of Twitter and its power as a new medium of information sharing. We have crawled the entire Twitter site and obtained 41.7 million user profiles, 1.47 billion social relations, 4,262 trending topics, and 106 million tweets. In its follower-following topology analysis we have found a non-power-law follower distribution, a short effective diameter, and low reciprocity, which all mark a deviation from known characteristics of human social networks [28]. In order to identify influentials on Twitter, we have ranked users by the number of followers and by PageRank and found two rankings to be similar. Ranking by retweets differs from the previous two rankings, indicating a gap in influence inferred from the number of followers and that from the popularity of one’s tweets. We have analyzed the tweets of top trending topics and reported on their temporal behavior and user participation. We have classified the trending topics based on the active period and the tweets and show that the majority (over 85%) of topics are headline news or persistent news in nature. A closer look at retweets reveals that any retweeted tweet is to reach an average of 1,000 users no matter what the number of followers is of the original tweet. Once retweeted, a tweet gets retweeted almost instantly on next hops, signifying fast diffusion of information after the 1st retweet.

To the best of our knowledge this work is the first quantitative study on the entire Twittersphere and information diffusion on it.

Hansen Derek L. ,  Dana Rotman ,  Elizabeth Bonsignore ,  Nataša Milić-frayling ,  Eduarda Mendes Rodrigues ,  Marc Smith ,  Ben Shneiderman ,  Tony Capone 2009. Do you know the way to SNA?: A process model for analyzing and visualizing social media data.

Traces of activity left by social media users can shed light on individual behavior, social relationships, and community efficacy. Tools and processes to analyze social traces are essential for enabling practitioners to study and nurture meaningful and sustainable social interaction. Yet such tools and processes remain in their infancy. We conducted a study of 15 graduate students who were learning to apply Social Network Analysis (SNA) to data from online communities. Based on close observations of their emergent practices, we derived the Network Analysis and Visualization (NAV) process model and identified stages where intervention from peers, experts, and an SNA tool were most useful. We show how the NAV model informs the design of SNA tools and services, education practices, and support for social media practitioners.

Herwig, Jana. (2009). Liminality and Communitas in Social Media: The Case of Twitter. Internet: Critical. Internet Research 10.0.Milwaukee October 7-10. (conference paper)

Content-oriented Twitter research has often relied on the analysis of a body of updates generated by a multitude of users, with the individual user and their activity over time vanishing in the sample (cf. Akshay et al.; Mischaud; Honey and Herring). By contrast, the present research puts the focus on the progress made by individual users as they learn not only to control a new interface, but to comprehend the social dimension inscribed in and enabled by its interface… I will begin by analysing social media interfaces with regard to their capacity to engender liminality and communitas. This is complemented by an analysis of productivity patterns and content of updates generated by users who signed up in either the pre-mainstream or the mainstream phase of Twitter.

Honeycutt et al. Beyond microblogging: Conversation and collaboration via Twitter. 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA. IEEE Press, 2009

The microblogging service Twitter is in the process of being appropriated for conversational interaction and is starting to be used for collaboration, as well. In order to determine how well Twitter supports user-to-user exchanges, what people are using Twitter for, and what usage or design modifications would make it (more) usable as a tool for collaboration, this study analyzes a corpus of naturally-occurring public Twitter messages (tweets), focusing on the functions and uses of the @ sign and the coherence of exchanges. The findings reveal a surprising degree of conversationality, facilitated especially by the use of @ as a marker of addressivity, and shed light on the limitations
of Twitter’s current design for collaborative use.

Jansen, Bernard, Zhang, Mimi, Sobel, Kate, and Chowdury, Abdur. (2009). Twitter Power: Tweets as Electronic Word of Mouth. Journal of ASIS&T, 60(9), 1-20. (journal article)

In this paper we report research results investigating microblogging as a form of electronic word-of-mouth for sharing consumer opinions concerning brands.We analyzed more than 150,000 microblog postings containing branding comments, sentiments, and opinions.We investigated the overall structure of these microblog postings, the types of expressions, and the movement in positive or negative sentiment.We compared automated methods of classifying sentiment in these microblogs with manual coding. Using a case study approach, we analyzed the range, frequency, timing, and content of tweets in a corporate account. Our research findings show that 19% of microblogs contain mention of a brand. Of the branding microblogs, nearly 20% contained some expression of brand sentiments. Of these, more than 50% were positive and 33% were critical of the company or product. Our comparison of automated and manual coding showed no significant differences between the two approaches. In analyzing microblogs for structure and composition, the linguistic structure of tweets approximate the linguistic patterns of natural language expressions.

Jarrett, Kylie, Interactivity is Evil! A critical investigation of Web 2.0  First Monday, Volume 13, Number 3 – 3 March 2008

Central to Web 2.0 is the requirement for interactive systems to enable the participation of users in production and social interaction. Consequently, in order to critically explore the Web 2.0 phenomenon it is important to explore the relationship of interactivity to social power. This study firstly characterises interactivity in these media using Barry’s (2001) framework differentiating interactivity from disciplining technologies as defined by Foucault. Contrary to Barry’s model though, the analysis goes on to explore how interactivity may indeed function as a disciplining technology within the framework of a neoliberal political economy.

Kelly, Lynda, Russo, Angelina. Archives and Museum Informatics; 2008. From ladders of participation to networks of participation: social media and museum audiences.

In order to both unpack the Forrester findings further and seek more qualitative information three studies were conducted by the Australian Museum during 2007: an on-line survey of Australians’ internet behaviour; five focus groups with adults aged 18-30 recruited specifically using the Forrester categories; and a workshop with high school students aged 12-18 years. The aim was to understand users’ motivations and behaviour in more detail in the on-line, as well as physical, context.

Komito, Lee 2011 Social Media and Migration: virtual community 2.0, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, forthcoming 2011.

Research indicates that migrants’ social media usage in Ireland enables a background awareness of friends and acquaintances that supports bonding capital and transnational communities in ways not previously reported. Interview data from sixtyfive Polish and Filipino non-nationals in Ireland provides evidence that their social media practices enable a shared experience with friends and relations living outside Ireland that is not simply an elaboration of the social relations enabled by earlier Internet applications. Social media usage enables a passive monitoring of others, through the circulation of voice, video, text, and pictures, that maintains a low level mutual awareness and supports a dispersed community of affinity. This ambient, or background, awareness of others enhances and supports dispersed communities by contributing to bonding capital. This may lead to significant changes in the process of migration by slowing down the process of integration and participation in host societies while also encouraging continual movement of migrants from one society to another.

Li, Charlene, Bernoff, Josh (2008). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston, Massachesetts: Harvard Business Press.

NB – Social media measurement refers to the tracking of various social media content such as blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, social networking sites, video/photo sharing websites, forums, message boards, and user-generated content in general as a way for marketers to determine the volume and sentiment around a brand or topic in social media.[1]

There are both entry level free tools[2] and enterprise platforms such as Sysomos and TwisterWire available for use by digital marketers and PR professionals.

Madden, M. (2010, August 27). Older Adults and Social Media . Retrieved Sept 21, 2010, from

This a report conducted by Per Internet and American Life Project on the pattern of use of social media among older adults (LH)

Miller, Daniel in press Tales from Facebook, Polity.

Etnographic research in Trinidad, where Miller had worked before.

Ojala, M. (2008) Social media, information seeking, and generational differences Online, 32(2), 5-5.

(not an academic publication)

New: Nahon, K., J. Hemsley, S. Walker, M. Hussain, in press 2011. Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Place of Blogs in the Life Cycle of Viral Political Information. Policy & Internet.

This empirical study addresses dynamics of viral information in the blogosphere and aims to fill gaps in the literature. In this study, we present a new methodology which enables us to capture the dynamism and the time-factor of information diffusion in networks. Moreover, we argue that the blogosphere is not monolithic and illuminate the role of four important blog types: elite, top-political, top-general and tail blogs. We also create a map of the ‗life cycle‘ of blogs posting links to viral information, specifically viral videos at the 2008 US presidential election. Finally, we show that elite and top-general blogs ignite the virality process, which means that they get the chance to frame messages and influence agenda setting, while top-political and tail blogs act as followers in the process. To accomplish this, we gathered data on blogs (n=9,765) and their posts (n=13,173) linking to 65 of the top US presidential election videos that became viral on the Internet during the period between March 2007 and June 2009.

Oulasvirta, Antti, Lehtonen, Esko, Kurvinen, Esko, and Raento, Mika. (2009). Making the ordinary visible in microblogs. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. Online first. Special issue on Social Interaction and Mundane Technologies (journal article)

Microblogging is a ‘‘Mobile Web 2.0’’ service category that enables brief blog-like postings from mobile terminals and PCs to the World Wide Web. To shed light on microblogging as a communication genre, we report on multiple analyses of data from the first 10 months of a service called Jaiku… We acquired a dataset covering all public postings and comments sent in Jaiku between October 26, 2006, and June 29, 2007. The rest of the paper represents analysis of many quantitative cross-sections of the data: (1) content analysis of a random sample, (2) qualitative analysis of microblogs as conversations, (3) quantitative metrics to describe feedback structures, and (4) social network analysis.

Prieur, C., et al (2008) The strength of weak cooperation: A case study on flickr, Feb 2008.

Web 2.0 works with the principle of weak cooperation, where a huge amount of individual contributions build solid and structured sources of data. In this paper, we detail the main properties of this weak cooperation by illustrating them on the photo publication website Flickr, showing the variety of uses producing a rich content and the various procedures devised by Flickr users themselves to select quality. We underlined the interaction between small and heavy users as a specific form of collective production in large social networks communities. We also give the main statistics on the (5M-users, 150M-photos) data basis we worked on for this study, collected from Flickr website using the public API.  During Summer 2006, we have used the Flickr public API4 to extract allp u b l ic data concerning the five functionalities listed above (tags, groups, comments, favorites, contacts). For users, only the identifiers have been stored (no personal information) and for photos, only identifiers and titles (of course not the photo itself). The extraction was done (in Java) by iterating on each user idu, to get all contacts and (public) groups ofu, and by iterating on each (public) photop ofu, to get all comments, tags and favorites ofp. Another iteration was then done on each groupg to get the list of photos posted ing.

Scholz, Trebor. Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog: Toward a critique of the social web

(not a research-based publication)

Scott, D. M. (2008) Afterthought: Asking the Right Questions About Social Media, Econtent, 31(10), 64-64

Have you noticed there are a bunch of polls and research reports that ask questions such as, “Do you read blogs?” or “Do you use social media?” or “Do you go to video- sharing sites?” The resulting data often show rather small use compared to the use of other online services such as search engines or email….From the perspective of the value of social media in an organization’s overall marketing and communications efforts, this data is misleading and dangerous…This data misses three tremendously important points for businesspeople to understand. First, when asked, “Do you read blogs?” or “Do you use social media?” many people answer, “No.” However, practically everyone uses a search engine to find information, and the search results frequently include blog posts, YouTube videos, or other social media content…Second, videos, blogs, forums, and other tools of social media are frequently integrated into company websites… The third reason social media use reports are misleading is that when people who are not regular users of social media ask their network (friends, colleagues, family members) for advice, say about a product or service they might be interested in, they often do it via email.

Stolley, K. (2009). Integrating Social Media Into Existing Work Environments The Case of Delicious. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 23(3), 350-371.

This article offers an example case of technical communicators integrating the social bookmarking site Delicious into existing work environments. Using activity theory to present conceptual foundations and concrete steps for integrating the functionalities of social media, the article builds on research within technical communication that argues for professional communicators to participate more fully in the design of communication systems and software. By examining the use of add-ons and tools created for Delicious, and the customized use of Rich Site Syndication (RSS) feeds that the site publishes, the author argues for addressing the context-sensitive needs of project teams by integrating the functionality of social media applications generally and repurposing their user-generated data.

Using collaborative filtering to weave an information tapestry (1992)

(Too old, the Web was hardly a baby when this was published)

Z. Xiang and U. Gretzel, “Role of social media in online travel information search,” Tourism Management, vol. 31, pp. 179-188, Apr 2010.

The study employed a research design that simulates a traveler’s use of a search engine for travel planning by using a set of pre-defined keywords in combination with nine U.S. tourist destination names. The analysis of the search results showed that social media constitute a substantial part of the search results, indicating that search engines likely direct travelers to social media sites.

Zaefferer,Arne 2010.Social Media Research:Social Media Monitoring in Internet-Foren. Social Media Verlag.

(no access)

Zittrain, Jonathan. (2008). The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

(not relevant)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2012 6:57 am

    Thank you very much. A great comprehensive list that helped to propose a research methodology for my assignment.


  1. Around the Web: Web Edition | Savage Minds

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