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Case SSMA – Social media data archive is a treasure trove for a researcher

Peoples’ lives and the society as a whole is reflected in discussions online.

Coffee table talk has migrated from the tables to online communities such as social media. This is why the publicly available online discussions are such a powerful data source for both social and economics research.

Futusome participates in the Smarter Social Media Analytics project (SSMA) coordinated by the Consumer Society Research Centre at the University of Helsinki and funded by Business Finland (formerly Tekes). The project aims to develop methods for predictive analytics using social media content.  The methods allow automatic and real time detection of trends in society.

Viral events and trends can be detected from online discussion

Communication and technology researcher, Salla-Maaria Laaksonen, who coordinates the SSMA-project, says that the online discussion mirrors the society as a whole.  “When you look at the discussion on, for example, big discussion forums, some real life events show really clearly in the data as huge spikes in volume of discussion related to the event. The discussions, in many ways, reflect the timeline of real life.”, Laaksonen describes.

The SSMA-project investigates viral events and trends using social media data. “We measure what is going on in the discussions at the time an event happens or a trend begins to emerge.”, Laaksonen explains and gives an example:

“We examine whether the current vegetarian food trend, clearly visible in the society, could have been predicted by investigating online discussion data.”

Researching the trends helps with, for example, product development since you can start investing into new products when time is right. As an example Laaksonen mentions the bread that contains insects as an ingredient that is now in stores in Finland. “You can measure if people are open to the idea of consuming insects as food and if the customer base already exists before product launch”, Laaksonen explains.

Collecting data is hard work even for a researcher

Collecting data from the web is usually the most time consuming part of the research when you’re researching online discussions. With Futusome’s services you can collect and filter the data you need for research without having to do it yourself. This saves a lot of time and according to Laaksonen, this is very valuable for a researcher: “Coming up with the correct data for the research by finding a good filter is an essential part of the research. Futusome provides us an exploration tool that helps you save a lot of work when defining the data you want to research.”. Laaksonen points out that saving valuable time when you don’t have to collect the data yourself allows you to spend more time on actual analysis and research.

“If you want to research the past events, in Finland Futusome is practically the only solution you got”

Even with the other technical tools available for the researches, there are a lot of variables to take into account. Web changes constantly, API’s are updated, parameters don’t remain the same and data may not exists anymore on the public web when a research project gets funded and the work starts. Using Futusome’s services the research group of the SSMA-project have access to a historical archive dating back to year 2001. Laaksonen highlights the value of the historical data in research. “If you want to research the past events, in Finland Futusome is practically the only solution you got”, Laaksonen concludes.

Read about use cases for web data