Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Role of Facebook in Research Sample Recruitment

Make the most of your social network.

There are currently more than 500 million active Facebook users (i.e., Facebook subscriber who visits the site at least once within a 30 day time frame) who spend 700 billion minutes and share more than 30 billion items (e.g., postings, web links, news stories, photos, notes, etc.) on Facebook per month. The site is translated into 70 languages and 70% of users live outside of the United States (, 2010). This popular social-networking source allows users to reconnect, stay in touch, join common interest groups, send wishes, as well as build farms and other empires. Friends keep each other current by posting their thoughts (i.e., What are you thinking?) and sharing comments and insight about their Friends' though-of-the-moment posting.

Facebook Friends typically consist of a random mix of volunteers representing our past, present, and future. Users' Friend lists are likely to be a diverse pool of people in terms of their race, nationality, ethnicity, locations, age, gender, career, as well as marital status and socioeconomic status. Friends are normally interested enough on some level to be our Friend by sending or accepting a Friend Request.

Throughout my nearly 20-year career in psychology, I have been collecting data in a number of conventional and unconventional contexts. The more conventional settings were research labs or structured meetings in prisons, boardrooms, offices, schools, universities, churches, and community centers. The unconventional settings include laundromats, stores, train stations and aboard boats. Whether it was surveying prisoners about their hostility level and scuba diving instructors about their personality, holding focus groups for intercity community members about neighborhood safety, or observing fighting work groups, I learned that a little creativity goes a long way to collect the best data to accurately answer the research questions.

Unfortunately, a great deal of highly publicized psychological research tend result from data collected in laboratory settings, using homogeneous and convenient samples who gain course credit for their participation. We all know that the stronger and more diverse the sample, the more generalizable the data. So why not stay out of the lab and try the Facebook route to "spice up" your sample a bit?

As a research psychologist, research professor, and former Institutional Review Board (IRB) Chair, I endorse Facebook and other social (and of course, professional) networking sites to be potentially valuable resources for sample recruitment when studying common psychological constructs. Since Friends openly post questions and other event information, informing Facebook Friends of an opportunity to participate in a study that could benefit them or share their insight through a survey could only be a win/win. Plus, there is an excellent chance they will pass information along their network. Of course, with an iron clad commitment that their participation remain voluntary and anonymous and a promise that their responses will be aggregated and confidential.

You have this diverse social network, use it!

Reference: (2010)

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