Instagram Research Methods Chapter


The new SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods recently came out, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to contribute a chapter on Instagram research methods. I came to Instagram research primarily as a long time user of Instagram and I was struck (at the time) by how few people seemed be to doing any research here despite the incredibly rich data on the platform. Research seems to have really picked up since the start of 2017, which is exciting! I’ll be continuing my own work Instagram as it relates to tobacco control, and hopefully will have a paper on prosumption and Instagram out soon.

The goal of the chapter is to help more researchers from applied fields to engage (responsibly!) with Instagram research. If I had to distill my chapter into one primary piece of advice, it would be that you really need to actually use Instagram in a personal way in order to understand the kinds of data there and how they should be contextualized, respected, and interpreted.

The chapter addresses all of these things:

  • The affordances of Instagram that make so suitable for research. This is mainly based on a synthesis of boyd’s work, but I add to past discussions by adding interpretability to the mix. As a qualitative researcher, this is what’s always struck me as Instagram’s key asset.
  • The key distinctions between Instagram and more studied platforms like Twitter.
  • A typology of the four types of Instagram research (big data, digital humanities, small qualitative engagement with posts, and actually engaging with Instagram users themselves rather than just the content they post).
  • Some best practices for rigorous and ethical Instagram research.
  • A case study of my work on Instagram and e-cigarettes (more on this in my Substance Use and Misuse paper).

I tried to make it appropriate for scholars coming from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, and I may use it myself in an undergraduate research seminar I’m looking forward to teaching next semester.

The book is out now from SAGE, but as always let me know if you for whatever reason can’t get a copy of the chapter.

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