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Longitudinal research on social media: some reflections

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At the beginning of this year, I finished working on a longitudinal piece of user research about the RAF’s engagement with their Instagram followers

The end of this research prompted me to reflect on the ways that this project differed from many of Lagom’s more ‘typical’ pieces of work.

Longitudinal research

The first clear difference between this research and any other piece of work I’ve been involved with at Lagom was the length of the project. Whilst most typical discoveries last little more than a two or three months, this project spanned for just over six.

A key challenge we faced was the task of trying to retain the same sample of users to interview in July 2022 and then again at the start of January 2023.

I think the level of user engagement that we typically see on RAF pieces of work definitely helped in terms of this. We recruited five users at the beginning of the research and were able to retain all but one of them throughout the project.

We’ve used the experience of this to better document our recruitment process for when working on any longitudinal projects in future.

One aspect of this project which I particularly enjoyed was the ability to explore changes over time. Due to the length of most projects, any reflections on this are often based on users’ memories of the past – which are not always the most reliable sources of data!

However, with this piece of work we had two distinct milestones with the users. As well as prompting them to reflect on any changes they’d noticed during the six month period, we asked a similar set of questions at both touchpoints to help us benchmark and identify any changes in their satisfaction.

Social media research

Another aspect of this project that sets it apart from much of our other research was its focus on social media, and Instagram specifically.

This required tailoring our approach. Social media users tend to expect far more engagement from an organisation than they do as users of a website. For example, a number of the Instagram users we spoke to talked about wanting the RAF page to post some form of content everyday. Considering this was important when formulating our research questions.

Secondly, users’ own engagement tends to take a different format on social media. Individuals are more active, interacting with content through ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ as well as giving their views by ‘commenting’. This too serves to generate a different set of expectations among users and it was interesting to dig into the ways in which individuals actively engaged with the page. 

As a result, social media has a tendency to move at a far quicker pace than websites. This had an impact on how we analysed the data from the research. We were able to really tease out the impact of the different methods of engagement trailed by the RAF on Instagram, charting tangible differences in users’ satisfaction. We heard, for example, that users enjoyed seeing a greater variety of content topics and types on the page.

 

Users were also able to tell us that they were enjoying the new ‘RAF Snaps’ and ‘RAF Storytelling’ content. It was interesting to hear how these different types of content were seen as examples of improvements which had been made to the page during the course of the research.

From working on this project I have learnt a lot about undertaking research over a longer time scale and exploring a different facet of digital user experiences. We’ve documented a number of the things we’ve learnt from this project to inform future work.


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