what is missing in social media research

Now that I am back from my military duty in Afghanistan & just really staring to settle in, I have had a chance to catch up a bit on social media research. As I read articles — both popular press metrics pieces and scholarly theoretical pieces — I’m struck not by what researchers are accomplishing but rather what is missing.

I can sum it up in one word: purpose.

In scholarly research I see a lot of descriptive (mine included, no one is safe here!) research that just describes what is happening. Often from the organizational perspective. The biggest offenders are content analyses of social sites, which just describe what organizations are doing online with no connection to their stakeholders or inquiry into the effect the social tactics have.

In practitioner-targeted metric articles, there appears to be a focus on cool new ways to count things but a lack of connection of those metrics to the organizations goals and objectives. There are lists with meaningless measures like number of fans/followers or cool ways to measure mentions, with little discussion about what type of question that data would answer for an organization or how it could inform or change a PR campaign.

Now of course I’m making sweeping generalizations here, but that is what blogging is about. Yes, I know that there are guys like Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis, Olivier Blanchard and others who do actively focus all metrics as extentions of business goals. But they are not the norm.

In academia we are also falling short of asking those really interesting questions that not only explain what organizations are doing in their social spaces but what impact social presence has. This involves external variables and well, sometimes actually asking people, which of course takes more time and more money and who in the ivory tower has that these days?

As I move forward in my own research, I’m pledging to be a better scholar & not take the easy road. I’m in the great position, just coming out of hiatus if you will, of being able to re-focus my research program. I plan to do more surveys and experiments coupled with content analysis.

Now more than ever we see everything is connected and I’ll make a conscious effort to represent those connections in my research.

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