BCS students turn to content analysis to track social media usage of companies and public figures

by Karen Zypchyn April 21, 2013

Who says second-year Bachelor of Communication Studies students can’t conduct content analysis of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube? If there were any naysayers, we proved them wrong this term.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith drew the attention of a couple of teams interested in her use of social media.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith drew the attention of a couple of teams interested in her use of social media.

This semester, I taught my first Online Communications course (BCSC 202) as part of our newly launched Bachelor of Communication Studies degree at MacEwan University.  For the capstone project in this course, I required my students to conduct a content analysis of either an organization’s, company’s or public figure’s use of social media along with competitors’ usage.

Students worked in teams and decided what or who would be the object of their study. Their choices were interesting and varied.  They included:

  • TV show host Ellen DeGeneres
  • comedian Rob Delaney
  • indie band Calabrese
  • non-fiction author and scientist Richard Dawkins
  • Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith
  • companies such as Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Adidas and WestJet
  • magazines such as GQ and Vogue
  • local weekly newspaper Vue Weekly
  • local radio station Sonic 102.9
  • local non-profit organization The Local Good

My students had a month to work on the project; when it was finally completed, they had to submit a written report and make an in-class slide presentation to show their findings.

If  you are one to say that journalism and communication educators should wait to teach an arguably complex mass communication research method until the 4th year in a bachelor degree program or even until graduate studies, I guess I disagree with you.  My students’ level of engagement with this project was high; their interest in learning content analysis was fueled by their curiosity to find social media usage patterns in the companies, organizations and individuals they were interested in.

While there was, and still is, much to learn about such things as sampling, creating content categories for social media content, and generating descriptive statistics, my students’ efforts to make sense of complex ideas in the field of online communication was worth it.

Facebook chart

This chart, which depicts the types of Facebook posts made by a popular TV show host, was produced by one team. It demonstrates basic skills in creating meaningful descriptive statistics.

 

Social media present challenges to researchers and professional communicators trying to make sense of the vast amounts of data now available at our fingertips. Moreover, defining a complex variable like audience engagement is a crucial skill that my students need to grasp, and many did succeed in attempting to define it.

Not only did my students learn a great deal about monitoring and measuring social media this term, but so did I.  Thanks a bunch to MacEwan’s BCS students for making my term enjoyable.

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