5 Reasons to use social media in qualitative research

11th December 2020

With the advent of social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, qualitative research has become more accessible than ever before. According to Social Media Today, about 42% of the world's population spend an average of 2:22 hours per day on social media. The potential sample pool is worth the initial time and resource cost to shift to digital-only research. With that, let’s discuss the practical reasons and benefits of relying on social media.

Morals and ethics of social media channels

The modern world is inherently reliant on social media platforms for networking, socialisation, content sharing, and offers a digital footprint for post-modern individualisation. While user-generated data may be freely available on social media platforms, a certain degree of anonymity still should be respected. Depending on the type of research and its purpose, users or the platform itself should be inquired about explicit consent. Putting ethics and morality aside, this is also important for legal reasons for the institution or brand you represent.

  1. Pilot future-proof research

The main benefit of using social media for qualitative research is the fact that these channels are here to stay for the foreseeable future. According to DataReportal, an average person has 8 social media accounts, with 14 new users on social media every second. Given that portable devices are becoming widespread, the potential for scientific research into user behavior is limitless and can benefit your academic institution or company long-term.

  1. Affordable & scalable outreach channels

Another aspect of social media based qualitative research relates to the price of admission of such channels. Social media channels won’t require exuberant amounts of resources from your research team to produce tangible results. You can manually parse and analyse data and use it in conjunction with whichever research software you already rely on.

Samantha Ivory, Chief Data Manager at Trust My Paper, spoke on the topic: “Integrating social media platforms, places which people rely on for digital social interaction can significantly improve your insight into human behavior. Take millennials and active academic students with papers and dissertations on their minds as an example. You can affordably collect data on how they might need 'help writing my paper' to determine the contemporary behavioral patterns for using outsourced writing services.”

  1. Worldwide candidate pool

The notion behind social media platforms is that they are international by design. You can access a plethora of demographics and audience profiles from the comfort of your laboratory or home office with a press of a button. Using a lingua franca such as English for potential surveys or audience polls can extend your qualitative research to include direct user interaction. Having access to users in the billions means that you can scale the research up or down depending on different project milestones.

  1. Potential for digital anonymity bias

Unfortunately, digital communication channels also have their downsides. Bullying, harsh language, scams can cause users to distance themselves from social media. According to Pew Research Center, experts fear that uncivil and manipulative behavior on the web will only persist as time goes on. But, it also opens the door for more unbiased and objective qualitative research in our case. Digital anonymity allows users to speak up on contemporary topics, trends, and social norms without the filter of expected behavior.

  1. Quickly reevaluate & redeploy research

With social media, it’s quite easy to repeat qualitative research. Social media platforms are constantly generating new content, and users across the globe never stop interacting with them. You can repeat your research in scheduled intervals with current or new parameters as quickly as you did initially. This makes social media channels a good choice for both entry level and professional academic research depending on your personal needs.

In summary

People are simply more comfortable with their smartphones than they are in a foreign environment, such as an office or a stand. That fact can clear up a lot of noise from qualitative research and help you get to the gist of your hypothesis more quickly. Likewise, the potential for accumulated data storage and subsequent iteration on existing research is limitless due to the digital nature of social media. While it may run counter to human logic, social media can eliminate a lot of potential concern when it comes to eye-to-eye interaction in 2020.


Erica Sunarjo, a professional writer, translator, and editor with a Master's degree in Marketing and Social Media.