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The growing popularity and use of Facebook makes it an interesting source for data. Every day, Facebook users write several posts and messages that contain information about their daily life. Researchers already use the data from social network sites as, for example, exit polls or information on the spread of an infectious disease . These data can be considered as non-reactive data, since the Facebook users did not write down he information for the purpose that the researcher used it for. However, we are interested in how Facebook could be used to collect reactive information; in other words, how can we use Facebook to create an online panel and what are the characteristics of such a panel?
We performed an explorative study in a probability based online panel in the Netherlands on the use of social media, with a focus on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The first results show that Facebook is the most popular social network and that the majority of users visits Facebook on a daily basis. Young people in particular are very active on social media, which offers scope for using Facebook as a way to attract this hard-to-reach group of potential respondents.
In addition, we developed a prototype of a technical panel infrastructure. This panel infrastructure uses Facebook to communicate with (potential) respondents. People can invite each other to become a member, post interesting studies on their pages, get invitations for new questionnaires, and keep track of which questionnaires have been completed. With this infrastructure we transform Facebook into a panel management system without leaking information to social network sites.
The next steps will be to find strategies to attract respondents to our infrastructure, and to investigate the consequences on the data quality. Technically, a lot is possible, but what will practice tell us?