Using social media to gather qualitative data

Lauren and I have been recently working on an internal project about public transport. We’ve been conducting various activities to build up a current state view of the problem – why don’t more people catch public transport?

We were only able to dedicate a few days for our project which means we didn’t get the depth of data nor talk to the amount of people that we’d need for a formal project. To offset this, and as an experiment, we posted a question about our project on Twitter and Facebook. We thought it might be a good way to gather some quick feedback about the problem space.

The question we asked was “Do you catch public transport to work/study? Why or why not?”

The answers could be roughly divided into two groups: I DO catch public transport because it’s convenient, and I DON’T catch public transport because it’s inconvenient. This is interesting as it aligns to results from ABS research* into transport patterns and preferences: in that passengers love public transport for the convenience it affords, yet non-passengers cite inconvenience as the main reason for not catching public transport. An intriguing contradiction.

All up we received over 50 replies using the two social networks. Not bad for an afternoon’s work. Here are some examples:

I DO take public transport because: “it’s less hassle, no traffic, more reading time, less expensive and avoids need for 2nd vehicle.”

I DO take public transport because: “It’s easy, reliable and don’t need to plan.”

I DON’T take public transport because: “having to wait for the bus, it usually doesn’t take me directly where I want to go, but most of all history, I grew up in the northwest where public transport stinks.”

I DON’T take public transport because: “nearby public transport is unreliable, slow and more expensive than cost of petrol + parking at my workplace.”

In their paper ‘Qualitative methods in service design‘, Lammi et al posit that social media can be used to augment research projects where there is “time pressure and the press of markets.” Gathering this quick data for our project means that we have been able to build a little more of the story behind the statistics in a short amount of time. We’ll post more about this project soon.

* More recent data from Transport for NSW shows an overall high rate of satisfaction amongst passengers but their research, unlike the ABS data, does not include non-passengers.


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