Using Social Media For “Real” Research?!?

In preparing for one of my presentations at Web Search University, I was asked whether social media could actually be used for “real” research… that is, to support strategic decisions and better outcomes. And what about the concerns of some researchers about privacy in social media?

My response was that yes, I used to be somewhat skeptical about the value of information found on social media, probably because it looks so different from what we info pros get through traditional information sources. But I was curious, and started seeing what I could user social media for. While there is a fair amount of noise in the social sphere, I can find information in LinkedIn or Twitter that I would never have been able to find using our more traditional online resources. And the data-mining I can do in social media gives me new ways to create insights for my clients. Granted, regardless of the kind of research you are doing, you have to think like a competitive intelligence professional. It’s all in knowing what you are looking at and recognizing warning signs or clues in amongst the likes, shares and retweets.

And regarding privacy concerns, I think the issue is overblown, particularly for us information professionals. We know how to modify our privacy settings to ensure that we are not leaving footsteps behind. We know what and how much to share on social media. And we have the information-evlauation skills to assess the value and reliability of what we find. Info pros can see beyond the hype and can see social media resources as the valuable tools they are, while remaining mindful of privacy and security concerns.

Watch my Speaking Extras page for the slide deck to this presentation, and check out the materials from some of my other recent presentations.

Why Facebook Matters

I often give presentations and workshops on using social media for both research and marketing, and I am still surprised by how many people look at Facebook with mild disdain. “I have better things to do than post selfies and videos of my dog,” they sniff. “And how could I possibly find value from other people’s selfies and dog videos?”

I’ve got two answers to these concerns. First, you can treat your Facebook account just like any other social network profile. Assume that everyone can view your updates, and keep them at least “business-casual” — vacation photos are OK as long as you’re fully clothed and not holding a drink with a little paper umbrella in it. I use  my Facebook page as a way to show a less formal version of myself than what people would find on LinkedIn or on my web site. A less-appreciated benefit of being on Facebook and interacting with colleagues, friends and family is that I have a better sense of how to search Facebook and what groups to mine for answers and insight.

My second response to the Facebook skeptics is to look at the latest statistics from comScore on smartphone usage. According to comScore’s March 4th press release, 75% of the mobile phones in the US are smartphones. And what are people doing on those 184,000,000 phones? The top app, used by over two-thirds of users, is Facebook.

comScore Reports January 2015 U.S. Smartphone Subscriber Market Share

If that many people are checking Facebook, then I want to make sure that I’m in front of them on Facebook. It isn’t my only online presence, of course, but it’s one where I know a lot of my potential clients are hanging out.