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  4. Overview of Research Methods
  5. Social media research
  6. Planning and conducting

Social media research

How to plan and do it?

While planning and conducting social media research, it is important to:

  • Identify the research objectives. Defining the objectives will help determine, among other things, what kinds of information should be collected (e.g., general information regarding food or a specific risk/benefit), from which social media channels (e.g., twitter, blogs), from whom (e.g., people of a specific country) and what kind of data analysis should be performed (e.g., sentiment analysis or detailed qualitative analysis).


  • Determine the criteria for data extraction. All social media tools collect and analyse data based on a set of criteria that needs to be defined, namely:

Event, Issue or Topic; social media tools can search and extract specific information based on a diversity of units of analysis. These can be specific keywords, associations between various keywords, sentences and co-occurrence of messages and other non-linguistic data such as retweets, shares, likes, etc. Thus, it is fundamental to determine the unit of analysis and the content/form of data to be collected, prior to the extraction.

Geographical location; many tools allow to determine the geographical location of interest, as long this is publicly available. This means that it is possible to include people from one or several countries.

Time frame; most social media tools also include criteria to determine the time frame from which the data is to be collected. However, data extraction tools vary in how far in time they can gather data and it is not always possible to assess past data.

Social media channels; most social media data collection tools give the chance to select from which social media channels will data be collected and analysed. However, it is important to keep in mind that given their specific characteristics, social media channels may vary in terms of the information provided, and thus based on the research objectives and the information sought it is recommended that only the relevant channels should be included in the data collection.


  • Select the social media data extraction tool to collect and analyse data. Social media data extraction tools vary in their ability to collect and analyze data. For instance, some tools do not cover all the different social media (e.g., twitter, blogs, forums), geographical areas and languages. On the other hand, some tools take more time to process real-time data and are less accurate performing sentiment analysis. Thus, while selecting the best tool to be used it is important to make sure that the tool has the ability to cover the objectives and relevant criteria of the study. One important feature of the tool should be the possibility to export data to a format (e.g. text; spreadsheet) that allows for more detailed analysis with other softwares (e.g., Excel, SPSS).