The emergence of social media data, at a time when survey research has become more challenging, leads our group and many social scientists to pair with computational and computer science colleagues to explore this wealth of data. Our initial aim was to answer traditional research questions that are typically answered by a well-designed data source. However, many of us realized that trying to “fit” the data to our research questions is not the right approach; instead, we should leverage the existing data to understand what types of research questions could be asked in addition to those we traditionally investigate. At this first meeting, we will explore how social media data can be leveraged for different types of study designs: experiments, longitudinal analyses, event-related design, network analysis, survey design, simulations, qualitative research, etc. We will identify challenges, strengths and weaknesses, and criteria to determine when social media data are suitable for answering different types of questions.
The meeting had 21 attendees, including ten guests from outside the project team who spent a day and a half discussing, presenting, and writing about social media study designs. The team is currently working on a white paper about the challenges associated with study designs involving social media data and the opportunities for new designs using these data. We are also creating an interactive glossary of terms used differently across different disciplines, and have a new Google group discussing social media research.