The next speaker at Digital Methods is Irmgard Wetzstein, whose interest is in social media monitoring tools. Social media monitoring is an increasingly important research area, of course, in both scholarly and commercial research, as the rise of 'big data' demonstrates. A social media monitoring industry has now emerged, providing a range of tools and services across various platforms. There are even systematic evaluations of the various tools, documenting this diversity.
If many such tools have emerged from commercial contexts, are they nonetheless also useful for scholarly purposes? Irmgard's study examined some 100 tools, focussing on tools which provide analytics for multiple social media platforms, and examined them across a range of parameters. Most of these tools are from the US or Canada, and focus on English-language content and user interfaces; largely, they focus on consumer, customer, and brand relations, but often offer broader thematic analysis, too.
Many for-pay tools offer advanced metrics; sentiment analysis is often at the heart of these tools, and real-time or close to real-time analysis is similarly important. Influence analytics, trending, and alerting functions as also common, and some tools also offer social engagement and workflow systems. Visualisation tends to use some common approaches, including word clouds and geo-mapping. Some are quite flexible in their visualisation options. Irmgard now flags Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, and Social Mention as representative examples for different tools types.
So, scholars may use these tools for some effective and standardised social media analysis. But reliability and validity of such automated analytics may be questioned; this goes especially for automated sentiment analysis functionality. It's important to distinguish quantitative, qualitative, and individual indices here.
The ethics and privacy implications of using such tools also need to be considered, of course. And the results of the analysis still need to be considered critically, for example to query how representative the patterns identified actually are for social media users or the wider population. Most importantly, the analysis needs to move beyond a mere quantitative counting of activity, towards qualitative analysis.
And that's it - I'm afraid I ran out of power before the final paper. Next stop, Brisbane!