Facebook’s page and polling facilities could offer a way to survey a reasonable group of people in a short period of time.
One of the many hats I wear is co-founder of the recently-launched academic journal Westminster Law Review. As with all new projects, our biggest challenge has been to getting the name out there, so that people feel inclined to visit the site, submit articles for publication and attend our events. Obviously, social media has been a part of our marketing mix, but the results have been pretty slow.
Last week, in the process of updating the journal’s Facebook page, I found out that posts did not have to be boring status updates. They could also be questions for people to answer – in other words, survey, polls, etc. So I posted a poll asking the respondent what they would choose as a broad conference theme. I then invited a relevant selection of my Facebook friends – those in law – and promoted the poll on Twitter every day. In less than a week, 31 people have responded to the poll and 22 people have liked the journal’s Facebook page.
The purpose of this Facebook poll was to promote a product. However, the response rate started me thinking about who else might be interested in using such a facility. Perhaps it is a way to collect research data quickly and for free, given the diversity of Facebook’s population. The problem is that the response rate would depend on how many friends you have and the respondents would have some sort of connections, either direct or indirect, to you. So, using Facebook in this way may not be appropriate for your research project. On the other hand, the data pool can be widened by using a Facebook ad to promote a page or even a particular post, although this would depend on your budget.
Of course, using a Facebook page or poll does not negate the need for the usual research ethics. Certainly it is important to work out how to convey the relevant participant’s information and obtain consent. Facebook has its own rules with regard to the use of data collected specifically via advertising – essentially anonymised. However, it would seem worthwhile to at least consider this for data collection alongside more traditional methods.