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Social Media Research

Important information to consider when conducting social media research, helpful tools to assist in data collection and analysis, and links to resources on methods, ethics, examples, and more.


What is this guide?

This guide is intended as a starting point to help researchers understand how social media research is conducted, what needs to be considered when embarking on a social media research project, and provide tools that may be helpful for working with complex social media data. This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive or authoritative explanation of any topic it covers - you will need to learn more about your desired platform and methods on your own. This guide is not legal or ethical advice, nor is it an expert's opinion on methods. 

Guide structure

Starting broadly and narrowing from there, we'll first cover big questions like "why should I do social media research?", "what are the legal or ethical considerations when doing social media research?" and then look at popular platforms and their unique aspects individually. 

Each subpage on a specific platform will include a brief description of the platform, how its TOS impacts research, and a list of tools used for working with that platform. You will still want to read the Terms of Service (TOS) yourself! TOS language and API functions change frequently. The popularity of platforms shifts significantly over time and new platforms are created. Currently, dominant platforms include: X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and TikTok.

At the end all of the platform-specific tools as well as broadly useful content analysis and text mining tools will be collected into one page, and the final page will provide links to readings, resources, and services at AU that may be helpful to the aspiring social media researcher.

What is social media research?

Social media research is a broad term that encapsulates any sort of research using social media platforms. These platforms can be used for participant recruitment, the administering of interventions or experimental protocols, or often as a source of data on people's opinions or behaviors - the main focus of this guide.

Some researchers also study the effects of social media on users, but this may or may not include data collected from social media.

Social media research is highly valuable as it provides researches across many disciplines with access to peoples' opinions or behaviors that would be difficult or impossible to gather via other means. Other forms of social media research act as important transparency checks to social media platforms' effects on society, tracking advertisement, political radicalization, health information, or other important topics.

You may want to research social media because you're a social media user yourself, because you've come across interesting social media research in the past, or because you have a particular question that may be well-suited to being answered by analyzing the combined views of a large number of people.

You can use social media data for the following and more:

  • Text/data mining
  • Content or sentiment analysis
  • Network discovery/visualization

Secondary sources

Social media is of interest to researchers across a very wide range of disciplines and as a result, the literature of both "how to study social media" and "studies of social media" is widely distributed. There are many potential search locations where you may want to look for information about the study of social media, including several of AU's extensive collection of databases.

Searching for secondary sources on social media can be tricky - like many "new" terms in scholarly writing, there isn't total agreement on what words to use when talking about it. When searching for social media-related literature, think about synonyms for your keywords. For example, in addition to searching for the term "social media" you may also want to try keywords such as "new media" or "social networking sites".