I am pulling together the final draft of an article on social media research and have got into an interesting discussion with one of the reviewers about how clients (and researchers) should assess the reliability and validity of social media research.
Having thought about the curent position a bit more my view about the current state of play is set out below.
Traditional quantitative research has well established methods of assessing its reliability and validity. The methods of assessing the trustworthiness of qualitative research are less precise, but are well established. By contrast, the views about social media research vary widely.
Although views about social media research lie on a continuum, it is useful to think of three positions that typify the debate:
- Social media research is simply traditional research with a new sample source. All the traditional rules about sampling, measurement, reliability and validity can and should apply.
- Social media research is different because, for example, it has not established what the population is, has not created a sampling frame, has not established that its measurements follow normal distributions, and is subect to sensitised and complicit participants. Therefore, traditional methods of establishing reliability and validity are unproven.
- The third view attacks not the methods of social media research but the subject of the research. This view holds that the comments people make online reflect constructed personas. Comments are often made for purposes other than the expression of ‘true’ views. This third camp is doubtful that social media research can directly inform clients about the ‘real’ world.
Do you think this covers the range of views that currently exist? What do you think about the reliability and validity of social media research?