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.

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