Saturday, 18 August 2012

Social media and social research: My first foray

At the moment I have some time to spend on the fascinating AHRC Connected Communities project Ladders to the Cloud, helping to better understand the Facebook page From There to Here… and help the community organisations involved in it turn it into something, well, more. For such a social media addict (my Twitter follower count is now up to giddy heights of four figures) this is my first foray into social media research.

Back in July I was given the login details for the Facebook page and so, for the first time in my life, I got to see the back-end of a Facebook page (rather than a user profile). Because these are essentially the money-making end of Facebook they provide you with “Facebook Insights” which give you age, gender and location information for people who look at your page, comment on your page and the “viral reach” – that is the number of friend’s feeds your posts appear on after someone has commented on them. It’s great for a project like this; with the handy knowledge that the research suggests very few people lie about biographic details on Facebook profiles, the site is essentially doing half of the social science work for you. Which reminds me, this book, which I'm told makes a similar point about the Tesco clubcard data, is on my to-read list for the nearly ending summer.

So, what did I learn from all this data? Firstly, it’s a bit difficult to download what you want. I ended up having to do lots of screen grabs, print out the images, and the then input the data back into an Excel spreadsheet. This done I learnt something very interesting. In March this year a big shift occurred, which is continuing, which has meant the biggest group of people heavily engaging with the site (essentially commenting on the images) is women between the ages of 25 and 44. Before then, the gender split was even and quite a few younger and older people were also commenting.

The next question is, well, there might just be a lot more Facebook users of that demographic in Edinburgh and the UK. Here my next trick came in handy. If you have a Facebook page you can pay to advertise it. If you click on the buy an advert section you have a form where you can target who you want to see your advert. As you close in on your ideal target market a counter on the right hand side changes to tell you how many people that is. So, there are around 38,000,000 Facebook subscribers in the UK and about 8,000,000 of them (21 per cent) are aged 25-34. Of this 359,000 of them live in Edinburgh (about two thirds of the city’s population) and 100,700 of them are aged 25-34 (around 28 per cent).  From all this, I know that Edinburgh has an oddly young profile of Facebook users, with these 25-34 year olds being the biggest group, whereas across the UK it’s 35-44 year olds who are the biggest group.

As a result I would expect more users at this age, but we’re getting a lot more – we’re getting 10 per cent more of these age groups then we’d expect if they were representative of the population of UK Facebook users. And 60 per cent of them are women. Why? I suspect this is just being driven by the content – these are photos of Wester Hailes in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s and the memories being discussed, such as this fantastic exchange of people working out who lived where, are of people of my age remembering growing up in the neighbourhood.

The trouble with all this, is that when I put out a (very successful) call on Twitter for info on social media use, the journals I was pointed too, like the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, predominantly report on studies done on college attending young people. This is partly because Facebook was at first limited to this group; partly because they are early adopters to new social media; partly due to a social-psychology research interest in this period as one of emerging adulthood; and finally just due to the publication lag - most of these studies were done in 2006-7 (and thus I've learnt about a lot of long lost social media sites! Bebo anyone?). So it’s difficult to find studies that might help explain these trends and put them into some sort of broader context. Although, I imagine if I can get a paper off swiftly I can hit a zeitgeist wave of research on other users of Facebook.

Finally, one last little thing, which I need to be very careful about how I write because I might end up getting sued by Facebook. When I was first getting the advertising data on the number of people in each age group I did not check a little box saying “exact age matches only” (or similar). So, I got the numbers for each of the pre-defined age groups and then as a double check got Excel to work out the total population to compare with Facebook’s total number of UK users. Miraculously the number of Facebook users in the UK had almost doubled, and a vast number of these people turned up in the 25-44 age group that marketers most want to target.

And in actual fact, to be precise, at the moment I am stuffing my face with sea salt and balsamic vinegar Kettle Chips dipped in humous. You should try it, it’s very tasty.

No comments:

Post a Comment