All posts in “Research”

How Social Agencies Are Thwarted by Lack of Open Access Research

Michelle McCudden is a Client Engagement Director on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group. Follow @mmccudden1

I’m coming up on an important and depressing anniversary: it’s been one year since I lost my access to a university library and the hundreds of paid access journals it subscribes to. Because a relatively small percentage of these academic journals are open access, I (along with anyone else outside the university system) am unable to read the vast majority of the new research covering media and new technologies[1].

Open access is the practice of providing unrestricted and free access to peer-reviewed academic research. The traditional peer-review research and publication process works like this: academic/s spend months (or years) researching a specific phenomenon, compile and analyze their results into an article and submit it for publication to a journal likely to be interested. At that point, the journal asks experts in the field to review and validate the research; this way, readers know that someone has vetted the work, increasing its reliability. If the peer experts approve, the article is published and anyone who subscribes to the journal is free to read it. These journals have arguably the best and certainly some of the most thorough research on new technologies and social behaviors online. Who subscribes to these journals? Universities. Why? Because these subscriptions are expensive—think thousands per year, and rising.


What Does This Mean for the Digital and Social Industry?

Under this system, a very select group of people will ever get to view that research. If you’re not faculty or a student at a university, the cost to subscribe to even a handful of these journals as an individual is prohibitive. Most journals also prohibit authors from sharing their research for free.

As a result, the world at large is missing out on some of the best thinking regarding how people use new technologies and online communication tools (these are most relevant to me, but substitute medicine, advanced physics, you name it).

What Can We Do?

  • Look for open access research and support it wherever possible. A number of journals have moved to an open access model—danah boyd has compiled a list (
  • Look for free alternatives to academic research. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is excellent, for example. However, a lot of non-academic research has corporate sponsors, so readers need to be aware of possible bias in their results.
  • Some researchers are taking a stand: The Cost of Knowledge ( is a boycott, with almost 13,000 academics committed to open access publishing.

Are there other tricks of the trade for accessing great research? What do you use?

[1] Although you could certainly apply this to almost any area of academic study.


An Update on the U.S. Digital Divide

Michelle McCudden is a Manager on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group.

As part of their role in documenting internet use, the Pew Internet & American Life project released a report last week on Digital Differences. Here are a few of the key findings from this research:

  • One in five American adults does not use the internet.
  • Among those who don’t, nearly half report that the main reason is that “they don’t think the internet is relevant to them.”
  • Adults living with disability are less likely than adults without a disability to go online.
  • These who are online are doing more.

Looking at the data, it’s clear that the digital divide is still alive and well for some groups. Traditionally, the digital divide has been thought of in terms of access–the gap between those who are have access to the infrastructure and tools associated with information and communication technology. However, the cause of the gap between the 80% of American adults using the internet and the 20% who aren’t is about much more than access; it’s about cultural use, ability, cost, time, and a host of other factors. In the Pew study, age, income, and education were all strongly associated with a lack of internet use, meaning that older Americans, and those with lower income and less education were significantly less likely to be online.

When asked why they did not go online, participants reported the following reasons:

Only 6% reported that a lack of access is the main reason they’re not online, challenging those who would continue to define the digital divide as being access-based, rather than influenced by cost, ability and demonstrated value associated with internet use.

For those who are online, they’re engaging in more and more activity – and building their skills in the process:

“While internet adoption has been more or less stable over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the activities internet users engage in once they are online. As a result, the gap in technical experience—and general understanding of the internet—between online adults and offline adults is increasing.”

So what does this all mean? Younger Americans, those with higher income, and those with more education are more likely to be online, and increasing their activity there. Those who aren’t online will continue to have decreased access to the information, socialization, and development of online skills, mirroring divisions in age, education and class groups that exist offline. But it’s not all bad news; more people are online than ever, and the gap is smaller than it was when Pew began the Internet & American Life project in 2000.

What do you think? How does this impact your thinking as someone active in the field?

Social Media as News, SMG in the news

The new media paradigm:

The fastest way to get a news story out is on twitter.

Every journalist is using social to communicate and look for a scoop.

Social media is a big story behind elections, social movements and the occasional publicity crisis.

It’s symbolic of the fact that each and everyday we’re witnessing the convergence between social media and mainstream news sources.

Further proof of this convergence is the fact that every two weeks, you’ll find Social Media Group in the newspaper of all places (digital editions too!)  Bi-weekly, we’ll be contributing social media data and analysis to the folks at Postmedia relating to current events, both lighter fare and important issues.  We aim to be the Angus Reid of social media research!

To see what we’re up to, just click on our contribution to the viral global spread of the Occupy movement on Twitter, or last week’s gem,  Beaver versus Polar Bear as the Canadian national animal (infographic below).

Like the work we do for our clients, our goal is to inform, provide insight and occaisionally offer some entertainment!  Enjoy!


Social Media Support for Mayor Ford – Not So Much!

We recently completed some analysis for the Toronto Star about social media perceptions of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.   Here is a quick summary of our findings:

There’s no questioning Mayor Rob Ford’s popularity among Torontonians.  He received 53% of the popular vote in last November’s municipal election, and approval polls conducted early in the summer showed that at least 57% of Torontonians think that he’s doing a good job.  But if that base of support is still holding, their voices are being drowned in social media, where Ford detractors consistently share the outrage and scorn for Toronto’s top civic leader.

In the last 9 months,  the Mayor was mentioned roughly 43,000 times over a variety of social media channels, with  Twitter being the primary channel, home to 70% of all mentions.  Fewer than 7% of the posts were positive. The largest spikes of online mentions  were brought on by this summer’s biggest controversies, like Ford’s decision to skip the Pride Parade, his suggestion that citizens call 911 if they witness graffiti artists defacing property just to name a few.  Negative mentions about the civic head hit record highs in July spurred by Doug Ford’s dust up with Margaret Atwood about the potential closing of public libraries and other cost-cutting measures being discussed at the time.

Looking at approval polls or election results, it’s clear that Rob Ford has the support of Toronto voters. However, these supportive voices seem to be overshadowed in social media where Ford detractors continually dominate the conversation landscape.   Politics are fueled by passion, which makes social media the perfect outlet for people to express their unvarnished opinion.  Time will tell if the increase in negative online sentiment is reflected in future approval polls.

Social Media Statistics: TV, Multi-tasking, Online News and Your Brand's Friends, Fans & Followers

Probably no one can make numbers look as cool as Sesame Street, but I’m about to give it a go in the name of Social Media. Here’s hoping these social media statistics make your next PowerPoint sing.

Couch Surfing, Channel Surfing and the Interweb

According to a recent survey by Nielsen, more people are surfing the web while they watch TV. Between 2009 and 2010 people who watched the Super Bowl while browsing the internet rose from 12.8% to 14.5% while Oscar viewers in the same time made a massive leap from 8.7% to 13.3% who watch and browse. What might surprise you are the sites that are keeping them hooked; Facebook (okay, not surprising) and Yahoo (Yahoo?). (via Fast Company)

Media Post reports people are also watching more TV online. A recent survey by Unicast found that of  planning to tune in to NCAA March Madness; 54% plan to watch the games online. An additional 10% plan to watch via mobile devices and 18% through social networks. The full study is available as a PDF. (via Mashable)

News is Not Dead

While the increase in Internet sourced news has created much dialogue around the death of the newspaper, news itself is not dead though traditional channels might be suffering. A Pew Internet study has found that 53% of all American adults get news online today- that is about 71% of all internet users. The interesting part is that only 35% are loyal to a particular source. The rest, seem to news graze using multiple sites and don’t rely on any one site in particular. Of the faithful, about 65% of them check in with their favourite news site at least once per day, yet only 19% of them said they would be willing to pay for online news. 82% said they would find another place to get their news instead. In other news, Yahoo News, Google News, AOL and Topix are the most commonly used online news sources. Not CNN, CBS or even <gasp> the New York Times. (via Web Search Guide)

Why Do They Become a Fan and What Does it Mean?

Ta-da! It turns out that Friends, Fans and Followers of your brand are more likely to support you at the cash register. According to a study by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate more than 50% of Facebook Fans and 67% of Twitter followers feel more inclined to buy from brands they are social with online. But why do they socialize with you to begin with? The same study shows that 25% are hoping for discounts and deals while 18% want to show off how much they love you. <Aww>. (via eMarketer)