du Plessis, Charmaine (2019, September). Augmenting social media research with Q methodology: Some guiding principles. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 17(3), 155-164. (doi: 10.34190/JBRM.17.3.005) (Available: www.ejbrm.com)

Abstract: This paper proposes that social media studies could be complemented with Q methodology when a topic that plays out in social media is complex, controversial or sensitive to allow for deep-seated, integrated online and off-line perspectives. Although the Fourth Industrial Revolution brought researchers more opportunities and advantages to study topics that were previously inaccessible, using technologies for research does not come without challenges. This is especially the case with social media studies comprising large datasets and where it is not always possible to identify fake profiles, bots, spam or manipulated information without having access to advanced data analysis software. Another point is that views expressed in social media do not always represent offline perspectives. However, while Q methodology has, over the years, adapted its techniques to accommodate new technologies, more can be done to embrace a web 2.0 environment. Why and how social media studies could be augmented with Q methodology to reveal individuals’ perspectives and attitudes about topics will be examined and potential difficulties will be highlighted. Not yet a mainstream method, Q methodology combines the strengths of two robust qualitative and quantitative methods sequentially to reveal and isolate the subjective perspectives of groups of participants. This methodology could, therefore, be useful when a social media study puts forward novel ideas and findings that should be supported by offline views. In this regard, the paper provides some guidelines by referring to the five phases of a Q study and describing how a social media study could not only benefit from but also apply Q methodology to augment results. Supplementing social media research with Q methodology could be empowering and provide opportunities for further research and debate.

Charmaine du Plessis <dplestc@unisa.ac.za> is in the Department of Communication Science, University of South Africa, Pretoria.