Sep 20, 2007

Lets Face it - is facebook the new buzzword in research circles?

In the past couple of months I have encountered facebook –quite literally - wherever I have turned my face! I have seen it land up in my inbox as invites from friends, pop up in conversations with colleagues, featured on blog posts and finally yesterday I was sent an article on - what sites like face book and myspace mean for research?

In the midst of all this I caught on to the facebook bandwagon just to see what it was all about!

From the little time that I have spent on facebook here is what I’ve observed…

What are people there for?

Small conversations that may not be of any consequence. Things like Wassup with you? Saw ur pics…really liked them or Am off to SL…see you guys in a week.


Grant McCracken has a good post on this – How social networks work . He refers to these as ‘phatic conversations’

This is communication with little hard, informational content, but lots of emotional and social content. Phatic communications doesn't get much said, but it has social effects so powerful, it gets lots done

It seems like a place for dipping in and out rather than immersing oneself deeply. Immersing would involve investment of a lot more energy and time. Perhaps email / IM would be a relatively more immersive style of communication.

My conjecture is – that’s what keeps the regularity of such conversations going and these networks thriving. Dropping in a one-liner on someone’s facebook wall is far less taxing than sitting down to write an email which would warrant some thought, structure and purpose.

So what does it mean for research?

Research has traditionally warranted an immersive approach to conversations. Lengthy & purposeful.

Online research and the use of discussion boards brought some change to this format. That was all about recruiting a panel and having short, non immersive, regular conversations with a set of people. Those were still purposeful conversations


What then is the difference between using a social networking site for research as opposed to using a discussion forum? The way I see it is that participants who are part of a discussion board have been brought there / have come on their own volition - for a specific purpose vis-à-vis people on social networking sites who are already hanging around there.

The difference is also that people at social networking sites are hanging around there and primarily engaging in Phatic conversations – the everyday emotional fillers. The kind of conversations marketers / researchers are likely to have on such platforms would not be quite like that. Even if they are limited to the small non immersive format – they are still going to be purposeful and rational – and therefore not likely to fulfill the need that people are there for.


The closest example I could think of was lunch time conversations that I would have with my female colleagues about inane things, interjected by our boss who’d spoil the party by constantly talking something work related. Even if it was something as small as just throwing up a question – it would be met out with disgusting looks – since that was not the right time and place to talk about such affairs.

What could be the way of tapping into social networking sites?

To start with it would require being sensitive to why people are on that channel. Use it to create that initial contact – open up a channel of communication….perhaps even understanding the way a target group thinks. I would be weary of using the platform literally to conduct research

Your thoughts?

6 comments:

jared said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jared said...

I see some real potential with facebook, although the science may not be there yet there is still some value. All in all it is a little too early to say, personally I haven't looked closely at it but you have motivated me to check out the possibilities. I think there is more opportunity with social networking as opposed to virtual worlds like Second Life.

Reshma Anand said...

Jared....I havent spent much time on second life - though have been reading about it. What do you think makes social networking sites a better bet for research? I guess the challenge would be to figure out how to tap into this thriving online community.

lolly said...

Hey Reshma,

Spring Research (first day tomorrow!) use myspace for their recruitment. You can do mini quant surveys with facebook but I'd like to know how you think we could use these sites in qua research...

Reeta said...

Research has traditionally warranted an immersive approach to conversations. Lengthy & purposeful. What then is the difference between using a social networking site for research as opposed to using a discussion forum The way I see it is that participants who are part of a discussion board have been brought there have come on their own volition for a specific purpose vis-à-vis people on social networking sites who are already hanging around there.
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