As researchers, we spend our lives asking questions. We are skilled at framing questions in the right way to elicit answers that will help our clients to understand the communities they serve. Recently however times have changed and many conversations that are relevant to client organisations are going on without any such input or direction. Communities are now having their own conversations and it is vital that we learn what we can from these less orchestrated data sources.

I am talking of course of social media. We recently undertook a qualitative analysis of social media conversations on behalf of a syndicate of Higher Education Institutions based in London, with input from umbrella body London Higher. The institutions wished to understand the tone and nature of the conversations going on about the pros and cons of being a student in the capital. Understanding these conversations would help universities in London to frame their own communications to better address any barriers being raised for and by potential students. The study also helped the sponsoring universities to understand what most appeals to potential students about studying in the capital, allowing them to consider how best to build on these perceived assets.

We found many threads in various social media forums discussing whether studying in the capital is better or worse than studying in other major UK cities. The data was extremely rich and the threads could be analysed very much as a researcher might analyse a series of qualitative interview or group discussion transcripts. There were many consistent themes arising from the data and whilst we had not directly asked the questions ourselves there was certainly no shortage of learning to be gained. In fact, there is much to be learned by examining the questions that communities are asking one another.

Does your organisation know what is being said about you or your issues ‘behind your back’ on social media? Could a formal qualitative analysis of the discussions going on in relevant forums be of value? If you are interested in finding out, why not get in touch?

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