Social media can be a valuable research tool, but following, likes, and timelines, it can be tricky to know where to begin. Here Dilip Mutum talks about using Facebook as a tool to collaborate, publicise and carry out research.

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Most people see Facebook as a place to socialise, to connect with friends, share pictures and play online games. However, an increasing number of academics and students are using this popular social network for academic and research purposes.

Create a Facebook research page
It’s a good idea to create a Facebook page for your research group or organisation. The Wolfson Research Exchange Facebook page is an example of this, and it is a great way to keep a professional presence on Facebook that is separate from your personal one.

Polling
For simple research, just click the “Questions” tab and then write the question you want to ask your friends. You can leave the answer open or add options they can select from. For more options you can use the Facebook Poll app which can be found on Facebook, using the Search bar.

Events
One really useful feature in Facebook is the Events feature. People are increasingly using this tool to organise and publicise informal events and even conferences on Facebook. When you create the event on Facebook, you have three choices:

  • Open – Events can be seen by anyone, and anyone can send invitations to the event.
  • Closed – The event listing is visible to anyone but only those invited can see the details.
  • Secret – These events can be seen only by those who are invited.

There are other options as well. If you want to make the event more interactive, you can enable the ‘Event wall’ and allow other people to post pictures, videos and links. This is useful to get feedback and to keep in touch even after the event has ended.

Go through the Events Help Centre for more information on Facebook events.

Groups
To communicate with people who are not already your Facebook friends, you can join one of Facebook’s many groups. These allow you to talk to members in real time or via email. Updates will come to your email like a regular mailing list.

If you are conducting research via an online survey site, you can recruit respondents via Facebook groups. Just post an invitation to the group along with a link to your survey site.

Using Facebook groups: avoiding common pitfalls
Some people might not be comfortable with being used as research subjects, so reassure them that your research is for academic purposes only and that responses will be anonymous. Credibility is an issue: if you have a fake name with a cartoon as your profile picture, it might be difficult to get responses.

Don’t make the mistake of joining a group and starting to recruit respondents to your survey straightaway. You should take some time to get to know the members first, joining in the discussions and then later on introducing them to your research.

You can also create your own private groups accessible only to you and your collaborators and use the space to discuss ideas.

Privacy and other issues
If you plan to use Facebook for professional or academic uses, you have to decide who sees your profile. Having a public profile which is accessible to anyone is not always a good idea. On Facebook, your friends can tag photos with your name and create content which appears on your profile.
You do not need to accept every friend request and you should avoid posting inappropriate messages or pictures as they may come back to bite you in the future.

Image Olga Palma, Wikicommons | Dimitris/Creative Commons