Thursday, 28 March 2013

Submitting to the NSMNSS virtual poster session

We invite posters presenting your experiences of conducting social media research in any of the social sciences. Your topic could relate to the challenges you have faced, the benefits you’ve found from utilising social media platforms for social research, issues relating to ethics, quality or participant engagement. Poster submissions provide an opportunity to present your research to a wider audience of our network members.

We will be running two virtual poster sessions during our digital event on 23rd April. Virtual posters will take the traditional poster presentation beyond the limitations of a coffee break or brief poster session to a bigger audience and wider debate online during our Digital Debates sessions.

The goal of a virtual poster is the same as for a traditional poster: to present your research in an informative, attractive, and succinct format. Posters will be hosted on the NSMNSS blog, with brief summaries of the research and the opportunity to share comments on the posters with the authors and with other researchers.

What format can my poster be in?

  • For the virtual event, we can accept posters as PDF, PowerPoint (up to version 2010) or Video files which must be no larger than 2MB. We are not able to accept posters in any other formats.
ALL Posters should be submitted with 150-200 words describing the research, which will be published alongside the poster.

What are the correct dimensions for my poster?

  •  The size of your printable poster should be A3
  •  We recommend that you use standard font styles such as Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri or Verdana, as these are easy to read. 
How does the virtual poster session work?

All posters will be uploaded at a designated time onto the NSMNSS blog, with the 150-200 word author description. The blog post will have an open comments thread, where the author can engage with virtual poster session attendees. The poster will remain hosted at the URL for ongoing dialogue after the conference ends. If you are submitting a virtual poster please also register to attend the online debates on 23rd April here:


Please submit your poster (traditional and/ or virtual) to Kandy Woodfield: by April 20th along with your email, organisational affiliation and contact telephone number.

Quantitative research and social media: webinar 8th April

After the success of our webinar on qualitative methods ( we’ll be hosting a webinar on quantitative research and new social media on Monday the 8th of April. The webinar will follow the format of the previous webinar, a panel if researchers will outline three key issues for quantitative research and then open the discussion up to the floor.

In advance of the webinar we’d like to invite network members to let us know if there are any burning issues that they would like to see addressed during the webinar. We’d also like to invite network members who’d like to present case studies or sessions during the webinar to get in touch with us.

If there any particular issues you’d like to see us address, either leave us a comment below, tweet us or email If you’re searching for inspiration, why not take a look at some of the videos from our quant knowledge exchange seminar

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Exploring the value of social media in survey research

Mike O’Driscoll is a freelance researcher specialising in fields of attitudes to IT, experiences of e-learning, and evaluation in health and education. You can contact him at

 I am sure that social media will have as profound an impact on social research as computers and the internet have already had. As desktop PCs with broadband have become the norm for most households (although a significant minority remain excluded) every aspect of social research has been transformed.

Taking surveys as an example  - the internet has profoundly changed typical methods of sampling and recruitment (e.g. a greater use of panel or convenience samples), the delivery of the data collection instrument (e.g. a link in an email), the survey mode (online or email survey), survey analysis  (being able to see and interact with results in real time through online survey software interfaces) and dissemination (reports can be made instantly available to research commissioners, participants or the general public). It might be argued that convenience and cost reduction in online surveys has been achieved at the expense of reliability of findings and their meaning. 

One of the many fascinating aspects of the relationship of social media and social research for me is the role that social media may play in adding value to the survey process in terms of increased sharing of knowledge and best practice amongst research professionals, offering more meaningful ways for respondents to interact with surveys and offering ways to add meaning to quantitative survey data. Currently, social media may be used as a means to recruit participants for online surveys (e.g. through posting an invitation in a discussion forum for people who are from a particular profession, or share a particular interest which overlaps with the focus of the survey), for testing survey questions amongst fellow research professionals or otherwise obtaining technical advice from peers (e.g. through Linkedin forums) and as a platform for distributing survey links.

The potential of social media to further transform the survey process seems to be large and relatively untapped. Challenges will include ensuring that the views of those without internet access at home are not excluded, that corporate agendas do not dominate the focus of social research which involves social media and that validity, reliability and research ethics remain the most important considerations in survey research. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

NSMNSS One Year On - draft conference programme for April 16th 2013

Registration, tea and coffee
Keynote: NSMNSS one year on what have we learnt?
10.30am- 11.15am
Research findings: Getting the ethics of social media research learning from NSMNSS project
Janet Salmons
Tea and coffee poster exhibition, digital listening posts and stalls
Research findings: What role is there for social media research in government social policy
Lunch, poster exhibition, digital listening posts and stalls
Keynote: The politics of Big Data
Workshop sessions
Workshop Stream 1 :  Collecting Quantitative Social Media Data
How do I collect data from Twitter?

Sampling social media data/ Exploring and refining data
Collecting & analysing social network data from social media
Social media polling of hard to reach groups/ Using social media data alongside survey data
Workshop Stream 2:  Analysing & Visualizing
Social Media Data
What is sentiment analysis and how do I do it?
Doing Social Network Analysis
Why is thinking about data visualisation important?
Using software for visualisation

Workshop Stream 3: Doing Qualitative Social Media Research
Analysing Blogs

Doing Virtual Ethnography vs Doing Netnography

Analysing the visual in social media

Tackling the ethics of qualitative social media research

Tea and coffee
4 - 4.30pm
Plenary session: Closing thoughts - next steps for the network

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

One Year On - 16th April 2013 conference

We are delighted to announce our end of year conference event on April 16th 2013 at the Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX from 9.30am - 4.30pm. We hope this will be a lively, forward looking event to celebrate the 1st birthday of our network. See teh draft programme here.

The conference is free of charge, but places are limited to 40.  If you haven't received an email invite please contact to request a place. The closing date for application for places is noon on April 3rd 2013.
  • We are looking for network members to contribute posters from their own social media research projects for the poster session and will be publishing the call for posters on the NSMNSS blog later this week. We will be asking poster contributors to also participate in our first digital debate on 23rd April (see below).
For those of you who can’t attend in person we are running several online activities and events over coming weeks which we hope you'll participate in:
  • Before the conference we will be running a joint Tweetchat with @socphd which will focus on the challenges and opportunities of social media research for PhD students. This will be on 15th April time to be confirmed.
  •  NSMNSS in the future: We would also like to know what you would like the network to do in the future and what form you think it should take, please share your thoughts here:
  • We are running a One Year On Digital Debate on 23rd April 2013 to give all network members a chance to participate in the discussions arising from the conference. If you are interested in this digital event then please register here:

Please follow @NSMNSS to hear up-to-date news on these online activities.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Invitation to Reference Group - ethics of social media research

There’s lots of debate amongst academics and researchers about what’s ethical in social media research but what do the public think about researchers scrutinising their tweets? This year, six of our grads are tackling this important issue in a new and novel way – by asking them! They’ll be using online and offline qualitative methods to collect the views of social media users.

Every year our cohort of grads design, conduct and write-up a new and bespoke research study enabling them to demonstrate all their research skills and gain valuable on the job experience. To support one of this year’s teams, we wanted to call on the collective wisdom and experience of the NSMNSS network members. We’d like to invite members to make a small commitment to act as an expert reference group to ensure that our grads’ project has external viability and is asking the right questions.

This would be a great opportunity for network members to feed into a project asking questions that aren’t being asked elsewhere. Not to mention being exposed to the tremendous energy and enthusiasm of our grads! If you’re interested, please get in touch with me for a chat., 020 7548 7072

For more information on this research project read our earlier blog.

Twitter Feed Transcript - 4th NSMNSS Event on quality of social media research

Thanks to everyone who joined us on Twitter during the final NSMNSS event to discuss issues related to data and analysis quality arising from social media research - it was great to have a range of people involved. If you weren't able to make the event, or if you want to take another look at what was said, the transcript is available after the jump...

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sampling issues of using Twitter to recruit participants for research on sensitive topics

Vicki McDermott and Billy Mcfarlane are PhD Researchers at UEA. They can be contacted at and

This blog post is aimed at highlighting the sampling issues we encountered in our respective PhD research. We are both researching sensitive topics; Vicki’s survey was about young people’s experiences of partner violence in their intimate relationships, and Billy surveyed young people about bullying. Both studies used online surveys and social media was used to facilitate data collection. Surveys were targeted at young people aged between 16 and 19. Comparing some of the demographic characteristics of the participants of our research we intend to briefly highlight some of the sampling issues that we encountered in using social media to collect survey data in our research on sensitive topics. 

In relation to the gender of our survey samples, more than three quarters of participants in the partner violence study were female (78%) whereas in the bullying study 58% of participants were female. Bullying may be perceived as a more gender neutral issue than teenage intimate partner violence, which is more likely to be experienced by females. A further issue to consider is that the individuals and groups sharing or retweeting the partner violence survey on social networking sites might also have been women focused and/or have an emphasis on intimate partner violence/domestic abuse.

It is also interesting to compare the ages of participants who completed our surveys. A third of the partner violence study participants were 18 years old (33%), slightly over a quarter were 17 (27%) and 19 (28%). Sixteen year olds made up the smallest proportion at 12%. In comparison, the bullying study just over a third of participants were 17 (34%) whilst under a third were 18 (31%), 16 year olds made up 19% of this sample, with 19 year olds being the smallest group at 16% of participants. The slightly older skew in Vicki’s study may point towards IPV not being identified by young people until they reach early adulthood. In contrast bullying is emphasised from a young age and so younger participants may be more likely to take part in this survey.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Augmenting Twitter Feeds with Curated Data

Dr Luke Sloan is a lecturer in Quantitative Methods in the School of Social Science at Cardiff University. You can contact him at

On its own social media data is messy, unfocused and lacking in context - however it is potentially a rich and plentiful source of information on the attitudes, beliefs and experiences of individuals if we can work out how to harness it. In my presentation I will discuss how we can geolocate Tweets within ONS geographies and thus create a new augmented secondary dataset which will enable a much wider range of social issues to be explored than through either dataset in isolation. Through linkage with rigorous survey data we can start to test the legitimacy of social media as a data source and develop methods and models for its use. I will also explore the importance of bridging the gap between the computing and social sciences so that we can respond to what Savage and Burrows (2007) have notoriously dubbed 'the coming crisis of empirical sociology'.

Yet even with the development of augmenting methods we still have to face the question of what social media data is (or can) actually tell us about the social world. Is it possible to reconcile elicited and naturally occurring data? Is the fact that it occurs naturally an advantage compared to traditional survey research which can be criticised over measurement bias and artificiality? Can we conduct legitimate social science through data mining or do we have to test theories? Are online representations of individuals simply 'avatars' that are not representative of their real attitudes and beliefs -  and is this not the case with survey respondents anyway? Considering that around 500,000 tweets have been made since I started writing this post, we'd be fools not to pursue these questions further.

We have access to more data now than ever before, but like the castaway stuck on an island we are surrounded by water that we cannot drink.

I do not intend to go thirsty - do you?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Twitter chat transcript - quality of social media research

Thanks to everyone who joined us on Twitter to discuss issues related to data and analysis quality arising from social media research - it was great to have a range of people involved. If you weren't able to make it, or if you want to take another look at what was said, the transcript is available after the jump - scroll to the bottom and work your way back up..

Monday, 11 March 2013

One small step for social networkers, one giant leap for social researchers…but what the ethics it all about?

Being involved in the NSMNSS network, you’ll all realise how social media opens doors for researchers. With a huge number of people expressing their views and opinions about everything from tweeting Cardinals for the election of the Pope to expanding the classroom through social media, we have instant access into some part of individuals’ thoughts, feelings and attitudes.
We also know, however, that this raises a number of questions about issues surrounding privacy, anonymity and confidentiality. We are seeing an increased need for Twitter users to understand media law, as covered by BBC News last month.  Let’s take anonymity for instance: search engines make it easy to link data collected from social media to identifiable individuals.  Informed consent is a real grey area: researchers may use open access areas of platforms such as twitter to collect data but are the users aware of this? Would they be happy for their information to be used for research?   
Consent with specific groups can be even more difficult. With children and young people becoming increasingly tech savvy, able to use sites that might not be age appropriate how can researchers know a participant is really the age they say they are? The ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) ethical guidelines (2012) explain that researchers should seek consent from a parent/carer if the research involves vulnerable groups such as children. But how would this work online when an identity can be made up? Wales is advising youngsters on such issues, in a pilot scheme for pupils aiming to protect their personal information and how to stay safe on social media platforms.
With technology constantly evolving the ethical principles for researchers becomes blurry. Researchers have an obligation to act ethically when carrying out research but in the online world formal guidelines are unclear and often unable to keep up with constant advancements of the internet. Researchers can use the current guidelines and regulations to guide them on such issues, but the views of the general public are missed out which is an important piece to the puzzle.
This is where our research comes in. As part of NatCen’s Graduate Trainee Research Programme, a group of us are leading a study looking at online ethics from the public’s perspective. We want to investigate how users of Facebook and twitter understand their online presence and their digital footprint; we want to look whether people are aware of how their information might be used; and we want to gain insight to their views and opinions of their rights online.
We hope that this research will assist the development of ethical guidelines for online research and start to provide some primary evidence in relation to the importance people attach to some of the ethical concerns that are being raised. This is a crucial part of not only ethical, but also high quality practise in the world of online research.