The Social Research Association held its ‘Social Media in Social Research’ annual conference in London on the 24th June 2013. Our senior researcher Amanda attended the daylong event which saw presentations from a wide range of speakers including academics with experience in researching social media. The day started with a presentation by Dr Farida Vis who was part of the research team for the “Reading the Riots” collaboration with The Guardian. The project analysed 2.6 million tweets during the 2012 summer riots in London. Dr Vis is at the forefront of social media research and talked about the data challenges surrounding social media research, existing methodologies, technical difficulties and questions regarding bias, sampling and anonymity. A further Skillslab in the afternoon looked at analysing information through images; coding techniques, authenticity of the social media image, how images move and circulate and how they are received/construed by the viewer.

There were queries from the floor about best practice advice and these were picked up and discussed further by Kandy Woodfield at NSMNSS (New Social Media New Social Science) and the ethics panel discussion at the end of the day. These ‘rules’ are being discussed now by specialists in the social media social research field. Subsequently, social researchers can go forward ethically with a balance being struck between all parties.

Brian Kelly from the University of Bath highlighted the benefits of social media optimisation which can extend, promote and support research activity. Claire Meehan from the University of Auckland described how she started with a traditional focus group methodology to explore young people’s use of drugs to then analysing social media to gain further insight into how the young construct their drugs knowledge.

Two presentations looked at social media user’s views on social media research and privacy/ethics. Both of these studies (one academic/ one commercial) showed that there is a wide difference in what people think about how their information is being used and shared online, with a majority believing Twitter is more public than Facebook, which is considered more family orientated and therefore more private. A whole different set of concerns were raised when discussing the level of dissemination at which people’s opinion is used. Dr Nicola Stanley discussed the online recruitment process and explored privacy behaviours from an online panel of 354 participants.

Amanda commented, “The day was inspiring and created meaningful debate surrounding social media research. One clear thing that came out of the conference, was that social media is blurring the edges between traditional research recruitment, methodology and process and social researchers are calling for additional guidelines of social media research methods that are easy to use and understand in terms of privacy control and integrity”.