At the moment I am writing a 3500 word article for one of the leading market research journals on the current state of play with respect to social media research. As part of the process of writing it, I have set down what I think the term Social Media Research currently encompasses. I would love to hear other people’s views about the term does and does not cover.
In order to try and structure my thoughts, I have started by creating three broad areas, or rather two broad areas and a catchall. My feeling is that these reflect the current commercial realities. These three groups are:
- Social Media Monitoring, relating to naturally occurring discourses.
- Purposed Communities, e.g. MROCs, Community Panels, and brand communities such as MyStarbucksIdea and the more than 22 million people who like the Starbucks Facebook page.
- Other uses of social media for research.
My feeling is that the first two are relatively clearly bounded areas and currently are much more significant in terms of research spend than the third category. This might change, particularly since that perpetual ‘next big thing’, i.e. mobile research, is in this third group, but as far as the second half of 2011 and 2012 are concerned I think social media monitoring and purposed communities are where the big bucks will be.
In terms of the third category, the others uses of social media include:
- Research into the use of social media, including studying the way that messages and influence flow in social media.
- The use of social media as sample source for conventional research.
- Netnography, conducting ethnographical studies in cyberspace.
- The integration of social media data with conventional research, for example tracking online panel members’ use of social media.
- Network analysis and other analytics.
- WE-Research, for example getting people to use smartphones to capture slices of their life and then to share them socially with researchers and other participants.
- True social media innovations such as gathering insight through gaming, foursquare, and collaborations like social bookmarking and quora.
Beyond these areas there are plenty of projects that utilise social media, but boundaries have to be drawn somewhere if illumination is going to be created.
What are your definitions of what social media research is, and perhaps what it is not?