Social Media Research Conference – Sheffield

One of the best conferences I have been to for some time. I’m not going to do a full recap like I did with Social Media Week London because so much went on, so here are the most relevant points for me:

Keynote Speakers

Katrin Weller – The Pleasures and Perils of Studying Twitter

  • Has a handy looking book out – Twitter and Society
  • Most research into Twitter does not relate back to any theoretical framework – i.e. meanings and motivation behind tweets and interactions
  • There are no set methodologies for researching Twitter, which makes it such an exciting and creative field 
  • What’s next – what about twitter images and favourites? Also cross-platform studies

Jennifer Jones – Curating a Digital Commonwealth

  • Fascinating talk about her research into mega-events, using #citizenrelay as an example
  • Citizen journalism enables counter-narratives to get exposure they normally wouldn’t
  • ‘Digitally empowered citizens’ get stories and content faster than mainstream media 

Francesco D’Orazio – The Future of Social Media Research

  • Social media research should be approached with ‘Qualitative observation on a Quantitative scale’ 
  • Current methodologies are outdated and do not keep pace with social media
  • Current social media analysis lacks context – do not understand audiences, just measure numbers. Web analytics framework has been imposed on social media – which does not work
  • Reality mining – location data (most delegates had ethical concerns about this)

Q&A

Katrin Weller – 

  • Modified tweets and Retweets can pull your original tweet out of context
  • Some who carry out social media research are not social media users – tensions

Plenary Panel 

Gareth Morrell – New Social Media, New Social Science?

Remaining challenges for social media research:

  • Methodological – what is quality, rigour?
  • Pedagogically – do people have the right skills?
  • Epistemologically – limited research with users
  • Ethically – what is informed consent? 

Louis Reynolds – Demos

Skills Lab 1 – Farida Vis – Overview of tools for social media research

  • Firstmonday.org – Internet Research Journal
  • Be aware of social influencing services such as Klout – their influence scales are unreliable 
  • Tools have agency and we should question that
  • researchingsocialmedia.org – book out next October
  • When using tools, be careful they don’t get discontinued – this can throw your research into jeopardy
  • Common assumption is that we assume users see all data – it moves so fast and there is no much volume (especially on Twitter) that they don’t

Skills Lab 2 – Gareth Morrell and Eve Stirling – Qualitative tools for social media research

  • Qualitative – flexible, responsive, naturalistic, embedded in social context, experiences, attitudes, emotions, reasoning, depth, richness, diversity, meaning. 
  • Ellison & boyd (2013) Sociality through social networking sites – Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies p.151
  • Danah Boyd blog
  • Facebook Chat a good way of interviewing – no need for transcription – need to ensure consent
  • Don’t make up a ‘research’ Facebook profile – if you can see subjects’ Facebook profiles they should be able to see yours (reciprocity) can adjust your privacy settings anyway
  • Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube can be useful for research dissemination
  • Literacy Practices of Young Women (Davies, 2012) – example study
  • Barden, O (2013) – New Approaches for New Media
  • Combination of social media and face-to-face/observational research. 
  • Ideally there should be no distinction between online and offline research – they should be combined

Ethics

Throughout the conference ethics was a clear concern for all involved. The ever changing nature of social media, low participation threshold, lack of clarity about what users are signing up for, copyright and ownership issues and transparency of methodology were all discussed. The ‘rules’ are still very unclear, however Eve Stirling directed us to the Association of Internet Researchers Ethics guidelines as a reference point. 

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About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.

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