Taming Big Data: Using App Technology to Survey Social Media Users
24 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2014
Date Written: April 10, 2014
Social media websites have inspired considerable attention from social scientists in recent years because they offer the potential to collect an unprecedented amount of data about social relationships in situ. Though millions of lines of texts can be mined from such sites in seconds, these data lack critical information about the broader social context of social media users and their online activity. In this article, I introduce Social Media Survey Apps (SMSAs) to address these limitations. These new tools 1) extract large amounts of data about social media users; 2) survey these users to collect additional data required by a researcher; and, 3) return the results of a scholarly analysis — or financial compensation — back to the user to incentivize participation in social science research. SMSAs thus provide an efficient, cost-effective, safe, and easily scalable tool for systematically extracting highly detailed data from very large samples of social media users. This article describes the software engineering and internet infrastructure necessary to create an SMSA and provides an illustration of this new technology as part of a study of how non-profit organizations attract public attention on Facebook. I conclude with a discussion of the logistical and legal issues that may arise in the implementation of this new methodology and suggest directions for SMSAs on Facebook and other social media sites.
Keywords: Social Media, Big Data, Survey Research, Content Analysis, Mobile Technology
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