Accepting the challenges of social media research

Publication Date08 Jun 2015
AuthorKatrin Weller
SubjectLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval
Accepting the challenges
of social media research
Katrin Weller
Data Archive for the Social Sciences,
GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Cologne, Germany
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new viewpoint series, Monitoring the Media:
Spotlight on Social Media Research, by providing an overview of the key challenges in social media
research and some current initiatives in addressing them.
Design/methodology/approach The paper considers publication output from disciplines
dealing with social media studies and summarises the key challenges as discussed in the broader
research community.
Findings The paper suggests that challenges originate both from the interdisciplinary nature of
social media research and from the ever-changing research landscape. It concludes that, whilst the
community is addressing some challenges, others require more attention.
Originality/value The paper summarises key challenges of social media and will be of interest to
researchers in different disciplines, as well as a general audience, wanting to learn about how social
media data are used for research.
Keywords Research methods, Big Data, Social media research, Research ethics, Data access
Paper type Viewpoint
This viewpoint paper on challenges in social media research opens a new viewpoint
series titled Monitoring the Media: Spotlight on Social Media Research. This series
seeks to shed light on the various facets of studying socialmedia and thus helps to keep
track of a phenomenon that reaches into a wide variety of disciplines. As we will see
throughout the series, social media research perspectives are manifold. In fact not
even the term socialmediahas a universally agreed definition, and there is no standard
typology of social media platforms upon which everyone agrees.
The term social media researchis frequently used to refer to the growing body of
literature investigating social media platforms and their users, which suggests the
existence of a coherent research field, which in fact does not exist per se. Social media
research is a kaleidoscope based on thousands of individual pieces, originating from
different perspectives and disciplines, applying different methods and establishing
different assumptions about social media usage. This makes it exciting, highly
interesting and innovative but also challenging at the same time.
Depending on to whom one is talking, social media research may be conceived as
survey-based investigations of peoplesopinions about or usage of Facebook,
YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc., eventually including experiments with groups of
users that either do or do not use certain platforms in their everyday activities; or it
may be envisioned as the study of digital traces of online user activities, such as
network graphs of nodes connected through liking or retweeting. Some researchers are
so focused on the digital patterns emerging through social media usage that they
almost forget that there are actual users behind the nodes and patterns; others may
focus entirely on user perspectives but disregard the technical details of the platforms
shaping these perspectives. Some may build an entire study around the analysis of just
Online Information Review
Vol. 39 No. 3, 2015
pp. 281-289
©Emerald Group Publis hing Limited
DOI 10.1108/OIR-03-2015-0069
First revision approved
13 March 2015
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Social media

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