Hacking Facebook Groups for Research

When you can’t find the perfect research app, adapt an existing discussion tool for your next study

Anja Dinhopl
Sep 6, 2017 · 6 min read

Recently, as I was preparing for a research study, I was having trouble figuring out the right app for the job. One app offered easy uploading of multi-media content in the moment, but didn’t provide much opportunity for rich discussion. Another had robust discussion capabilities but lacked available media content. And on it went.

Convinced that I would need to make concessions someplace, I put together a pro-and-con list for my team to have them help me decide. As I got ready to post the list in a Facebook Group — yes, at Facebook, we use Facebook to communicate with each other — it finally hit me: I could just use Facebook Groups for the project. Here’s how it went and what I learned.

Keeping participants engaged

I’m not going to tell you to use Facebook Groups for all your research projects. But for this one — a diary study of how a new Facebook photo-sharing feature fit into the lives of Facebook users in South America — it worked surprisingly well. I was able to ask participants questions throughout the day to really get at their photo-sharing habits at various times. Because they already had Facebook installed on their phones and received notifications of my post, participants were immediately engaged and responsive.

Groups also made for lively discussion. When I asked participants to share the most interesting photo they’d seen their friends post with the feature, they could simply add a photo in the comments. Threaded answers enabled them to discuss one another’s photos. For another question, I used Facebook’s poll-creating feature in the group to make it easy to choose an answer. The study lasted two weeks, and engagement didn’t drop off. Among participants who completed the study, it even intensified as participants got to know each other.

Why to consider Groups

Since this photo-sharing study, I’ve successfully used Facebook Groups for several other research projects. It’s not the perfect tool for every study (more on that later), but it’s well worth considering. Here are my top 7 reasons why:

  1. High participant engagement: If your participant sample consists of Facebook users, participants don’t have to download a separate app or log in to a separate service in order to stay in touch with the researcher. When they can use a service they already use throughout their day, participants are more likely to stay engaged for the duration of the research.

A few concerns

Though Groups is an effective tool for a lot of studies, it’s far from a universal solution. Here are the main potential drawbacks to consider.

  1. Participants are not anonymous: Participants use their real first and last names on Facebook. Each participant and the researcher will know one another’s real identities, which can be an especially significant problem for sensitive topics and discussions.

How to set up a Facebook Group for research

  1. Create a group on Facebook: Creating a group is easy using these steps. Give your group a fun name that’s easy for participants to remember and clearly delineates the group from other activities on Facebook. Make sure you choose a fun cover photo.

I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how well Facebook Groups has fulfilled my research needs. I hope this guide has provided you with enough information to give it a try as well. I’d love to hear about your own experiences with using Facebook Groups for research. Let me know how it went in the comments, or ask me any questions. Happy researching!

Author: Anja Dinhopl, Researcher at Facebook

Illustrator: Drew Bardana

For another research hack, see Lauren Vilder’s “Conducting Diary Studies via Messenger” article for how she adapted Facebook Messenger for a diary study.

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

Anja Dinhopl

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Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

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