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Presenting Our Social Media Work at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium

Now that I’m back in Australia from my extended conference trip, I immediately got back on a plane to travel to a freezing Melbourne, to present our social media research in crisis communication and beyond at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium. Below are my slides and audio – many thanks again to Jennifer Lai and her team at IBM Research Australia for the invitation!

A Review of Social Media Analytics Tools

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.

Facepager: A Tool for Gathering Facebook Data

The final panel at Digital Methods in Vienna is on Web monitoring, and starts with a paper by Jakob Jünger on Facepager, a tool for gathering data from Facebook. Such data could be scraped directly from the Web pages, or retrieved through the API; Facepager takes the second route, which has specific implications for the kind of data which are available for it.

For example, popular Facebook pages show a general estimate of how many likes they've received (e.g. "700k"), while the API returns an exact number; this needs to be considered in any analysis which examines the actual user experience, of course.

Journalistic Frames vs. User Frames in News Discussion

The next paper at Digital Methods is by Nina Springer, who continues the framing theme. Classical framing research examines the impact of frames on audiences, while it is obvious that audiences aren't simply passive recipients, but actively engage with media frames; is this the case especially in new and social media spaces?

This is also a question about the plurality of opinion - the multiplicity of frames may point to the presence of diverse opinions in media coverage. This can also be understood from the perspective of interpretative repertoires: within any repertoire, multiple interconnected frames may exist and involve logics of evaluation, logics of action, and typical actors and structures.

Understanding Frames in User Comments on the News

The next Digital Methods panel starts with a presentation by Gianna Haake, whose interest is in framing analysis in social media. Social media texts are often very short, of course, making interpretation and framing analysis very difficult; attempts to analyse content may be inherited from other media forms, too, which may not always be appropriate. Where social media and mainstream media content intersect (e.g. in the form if user comments in news sites), user-generated content could be analysed as media content, or as a reaction to media content.

Frames can be described as persistent patterns of interpretation, and can be broken down into a number of elements which show that there are more than simply thematic contexts for debates; frames support interpretation and action, for example. How may we find indicators for frames, or frame elements, in the short user-generated texts of social media?

Expanding the Twitter Universe through Link Analysis

The final speakers in this Digital Methods panel are Jürgen Grimm and Christiane Grill. They're interested in moving beyond the analysis of individual tweets to the aggregation of Twitter data which can be used reliably in media research. This requires the use of transparent and clear search or tracking strategies, and a further manual reduction of the data to weed out irrelevant material; further, the intertextual connections of tweets need to be identified and examined, both between each other and with external texts (e.g. from mass media).

The idea in this is to move from an atomistic Twitter universe, based on individual tweets, to a conversational and/or intermedial Twitter universe (variously recognising tweet relationships through @mentions and retweets, or through links and other pointers to external media texts). In the context of the Salzburg state election in Austria, for example, the former means focussing on conversations rather than individual tweets; the latter means identifying all links being shared by Twitter users and generating a hybrid network including tweets and other resources.

What Do Twitter Patterns around Elections Actually Tell Us?

The second speaker this morning at Digital Methods is Andreas Jungherr, who shifts our focus back to Twitter: he is interested in how we may use observations from this platform to understand what happens in society as such. What, if anything, may we read out of, for example, the patterns around an election which could help us predict the outcome of the election?

In the German election 2009, for example, Andreas found substantial activity around the Pirate Party, but this is an artefact of the specific demographics of Twitter in the country at the time rather than a sign of genuine pandemic interest in the party. In the same campaign, the volume of political news being shared during the campaign clearly shows the gradual growth of interest ahead of Election Day, and pinpoints key moments like debates and state elections in the run-up.

Social Media Uses by Bundesliga Clubs

The second day at Digital Methods in Vienna starts with a speed panel which begins with a paper by Philip Sinner on the German Bundesliga's social media activities. Football is a popular and everyday culture phenomenon in Germany, and has an important place in people's lives; the clubs themselves do professional PR work, of course, but have yet to fully embrace social media as part of this work. How successful is this in managing identities, relationships, and information to date? What are they trying to do? Which social media platforms are they using?

Philip examined the various social media offerings and spoke to the media directors of various Bundesliga clubs, as well as reviewing the content of their social media activities. He first went to the home pages of the clubs, to identify which social media platforms are being linked to from these pages - but not all of their social media activities (especially for the international market, e.g. Bayern Munich's Weibo accounts) are linked to from these pages. Of course there are also various fan-operated accounts, which are sometimes difficult to distinguish from official accounts.

#aufschrei: How a Hashtag Public Forms

The final paper in this Digital Methods panel is by Axel Maireder and Stefan Schlögl, whose interest is in the #aufschrei discussion about sexism in German politics. How did this emerge from a small-scale conversation on Twitter to a major trending hashtag, and subsequently to a cross-media event, over the course of a few hours? What happened here was the growth of a communicative network in the form of a partial public or issue public related to the topic on Twitter, interleaved with other publics as enabled by the conventional mainstream media.

New forms of discussion fora and spaces, especially also including social media, enable new and lasting connections between themes and individuals. These connections are increasingly manifested in the data structures which are available through social media APIs, too, and structure the flow of communication. URLs shared in tweets and other social media updates further document the connection of such communication with other, external media, while hashtags enable the development of ad hoc publics independent of existing follower networks.

Defining Themes for Twitter Data Gathering

The next presentation in this Digital Methods panel is by Christoph Neuberger and Sanja Kapidzic, whose focus is on the question of how to define themes and topics in online communication. Using single keywords to define topics is too simplistic, and there often is an implication that we know what a topic is when we see it - but what exactly is a topic?

Sometimes, specific labels do emerge for given topics, which makes tracking them easier, but these labels themselves may evolve. In live topics it becomes necessary to track these themes and continue to update the markers of themes which are seen as relevant. Themes may be defined variously by broad news beats, by thematic areas, by single themes, or at the most specific level by specific events; these levels of specificity also overlap considerably, however.

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