This article presents a descriptive methodological analysis of qualitative and mixed methods approaches for social media research. It is based on a systematic review of 229 qualitative or mixed methods research articles published from 2007 through 2013 where social media played a central role. Publication trends are presented for the entire set of articles followed by analysis of a subset of 55 studies that combined qualitative and quantitative approaches consistent with an established mixed methods typology (Creswell, 2014; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). The literature analysis is first contextualized by presenting a brief overview of related scholarly activity in the emerging field of social media research. This is followed by a discussion of publication trends and methodologies applied in this systematic literature review.
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) defined social media as “… a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (p. 61). The emergence of social media technologies has been embraced by a growing number of users who post text messages, pictures, and videos online (Duggan, 2013; Duggan, Ellison, Lampe, Lenhart, & Madden, 2015). Reports of worldwide social networking activity suggest that there were 1.96 billion users in 2015 with predictions of 2.44 billion users by 2018 (Statista, 2015). Of all the social networking sites, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are among the most popular ranking within the top 10 of a list of most heavily visited sites on the web (Alexa, 2015). The combination of prolific user activity and production of user-generated content has captured the attention of scholars and researchers who seek to understand social media and its role in contemporary society.
Considerable attention has been given to social media research as evidenced by the expanding literature base and growing number of comprehensive literature reviews, which have been conducted to explore various facets of social media research and scholarship. A matrix summary of 20 social media literature reviews published from 2011 through early 2014 is provided in Table 1. Although not a comprehensive list, each of the articles in Table 1 represents a systematic literature review with the methodology for sampling and analysis clearly described by the author(s). The range of topics covered across the collection of literature review works reveals some of the diversity in emphasis and fields of study from which the works emerge. Some authors have focused on categorization of trends in academic literature related to specific social media platforms such as Facebook (Błachnio, Przepiórka, & Rudnicka, 2013; Caers et al., 2013; Hew, 2011; Manca & Ranieri, 2013
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