Methodology – Draft

So this was probably the most challenging chapter that I have written so far. I have purposely left out the images/figures/tables in this post as they are just not practical to go through, find and post in their specific places. In my research I am using mixed method research practices, helping to give validity to both my qualitative and quantitative results. My biggest issue at the moment is that I am currently sitting at 13,349 words total. Seeing as we have a 15,000 word limit (as far as I know) this could become problematic. With the 10% rule, I worked it out that I pretty much have 3151 words left to use (1500 extra because yay 10%). Who ever thought that getting to 15,000 was a struggle – I think I am going to have to cut my words down in the end! Enjoy!


Chapter Four: Methodology

This chapter outlines the methodology undertaken in this study in order to test the research question established after the review of literature. Content analysis and netnographic methodology will be discussed as well as the ethical implications of these methods when conducting research via social media channels. Using the Convergent Parallel Mixed Methods design, qualitative and quantitative data will be analysed separately and findings will be related from each different method to reach a greater understanding of the research. Both of these methods will take place within the selected Chronic Pain closed Facebook groups, so ethical and participation implications will need to be considered.

Unlike offline support groups, OSGs transcend geographic boundaries (Chung, 2013). Online support groups based on social media platforms have a great potential for a much larger and diverse group composition (Lowe et. al.,2009), which in turn allows members to potentially access a wider variety of information, advice and support (Coulson & Knibb, 2007). Social media is altering the traditional communication paradigm. Establishments that were once bound to specific places; support groups once needed to take place in a church or hospital, but as a consequence of media intervention, individuals can contribute and participate in many different social institutions regardless of the physical geographic location (Hjarvard, 2013).

Ever since the Nineteenth Century, media have dis-embedded (Giddens, 1984) social interaction from the local level and embedded it in a national – and later global – context (Hjarvard, 2008). The human experience is no longer destined to a local or national context, but also takes place on a globalised context; media making it possible to connect with others across political and cultural boundaries (Hjarvard, 2013). This development leads to greater cultural reflexivity and as media communications cross more frontiers, virtually no culture will be able to develop in isolation from others (Urban, 2001).

Support groups are an important formation within society and can come in many differentiated forms. They can be a helpful tool to allow members to share analogous experiences and similar challenges they may be facing, which can lead to the exchange of social support (Gottlieb, Maitland et al., 2013) and provide the opportunity for social comparison with peers (Campbell, Phaneuf, & Deane, 2004). The small support group movement emerged to combat the forces of fragmentation and anonymity within society, to enhance the engagement and practice of human community (Wuthnow, 1994; Kurtz, 1997).  As more and more people use the Internet as a part of their every day lives, an increasing number of them are utilizing it as a highly sophisticated communication device that enables and empowers the formation of online communities (Bowler, 2010).


Flowchart of Research Procedure

Purposive sampling: Survey data collected. 108 respondents, 5 Chronic Pain Specific closed Facebook Groups
Findings and recommendations
Further secondary research aligning with research propositions
Conventional Content Analysis conducted, using mixed method analysis approach for qualitative and quantitative data
Qualitative data captured by Nvivo, coded 18 posts, 64 comments, 254 group members
Coding framework composed, substantiated and tested, sample triangulated by academics
Methodology constructed – Mixed Method research design
Cluster sampling: Facebook administrators of 5 Chronic Pain Specific closed groups contacted, one to be analysed using Nvivo
Ethics Approval: University of Western Sydney H10565
Secondary research conducted
Research question developed





Netnography bridges the gap between passive data collection and the investigator-initiated, more traditional way of collecting data from participants. Online communication media possesses a certain ontological status for their participants, acting as a media of cultural transaction; not only the exchange of information, but also systems of meaning (Kozinets, pg. 12, 2010). The hypothesis that guides ethnographic enquiry is that “any group of people interacting together for a period of time will evolve a culture” (Patton, 2002, pg. 81). Cultures have previously been understood as geographically bound groups, but as stated by boyd (2009), geography can no longer be the defining framework for culture as groups and communities are constructed online using computer mediated communication (CMC) technologies.

The term ‘netnography’ is a hybrid of the words internet and ethnography and is considered to be a relatively new method for the analysis of online communities (Belz & Baumbach, 2010). Netnography is an approach to studying online communities and cultures to arrive at an ethnographic understanding that focuses on studying a culture-sharing group in order to discover shared patterns of beliefs, values, and behaviours among its members (Creswell 2007; Creswell, 2014).

All ethnographies of online cultures and communities extend the traditional notions of field and ethnographic study, as well as ethnographic cultural analysis and representation. The observation of co-located, face-to-face interactions to technologically mediated interactions in online networks and communities, and the culture (or cyberculture) shared between and among them (Kozinets, 2010) all extend the traditional practices of studying ethnographies.

Kozinets (2010) suggests guidelines for netnographic fieldwork. He signifies that you should look for online communities that are: (a) relevant, they relate to your research focus and question(s), (b) active, they have recent and regular communications, (c) interactive, they have a flow of communications between participants, (d) substantial, they have a critical mass of communicators and an energetic feel, (e) heterogeneous, they have a number of different participants, and (f) data-rich, offering more detailed or descriptive rich data (Kozinetz, 2010, p. 89).

Mixed Method Design

The Convergent Parallel Mixed Methods design encompasses the use of both qualitative and quantitative data to compare or relate different perspectives originating from the data.

 Figure: Convergent Parallel Mixed Methods Design (Creswell, 2014).

Mixed method design is chosen because of its strength of drawing upon both qualitative and quantitative research and minimising the limitations of both approaches. In this method, researchers will collect both types of data, analyse them separately and compare the results to see if the findings confirm or disconfirm each other (see Figure). The key assumptions of this approach note that both qualitative and quantitative data provide different types of information and together they yield results that are the same (Creswell, 2014).

Quantitative Methodology

Survey design provides a quantitative or numeric description of trends, attitudes or opinions of a population by the study of a sample of that population (Creswell, 2014).  Through the development and distribution of a 15 question survey, the researcher aimed to gain a numerical insight into the trends of Chronic Pain from the sufferer and carer/family member’s perspective.

Using the Cluster sampling procedure, clusters (five closed Facebook groups) were identified and then sampled (Babbie, 2007). The Chronic Pain Support Group survey link was shared across five closed Chronic Pain specific groups for a two week period and across this time, the survey had 108 respondents. Instrumentation of the survey was considered for the online environment, so the choice of hosting the survey on was intentional as online hosting websites allow for the ease of sharing among specific social media platforms. The online survey hosting makes it easier to distribute the survey as well as collate the data at a later date (Sue & Ritter, 2012).

Response bias needs to be taken into consideration when practicing quantitative data collection methods as it refers to the conditions or factors that take place during the process of responding to surveys, affecting the way responses are provided. Careful presentation of questions within the survey and pretesting of the questions is a general way to detect possible biasing problems. Careful questionnaire design can help minimize this source of error, helping to ensure that respondents answer in an acquiescent way and tend to agree with statements in both directions (Villar, 2008).

Analysis of the quantitative data will take place using varying techniques including cross-tabulation, a table that displays a relationship between two separate variables (Lewis-Beck, 2004) and comparison of variables. Analysing the percentages within responses including averages will also help to analyse the data collected. This will all take place using data analysis program SPSS.

Netnographic Methodology
Being in contact with an online community is becoming an increasingly part of regular life for many people. With many people using and engaging with these online communities, the internet has become an important site for research. As more and more people use and become connected with the Internet, they use is as a highly sophisticated communication device that enables and empowers the formation of communities. The differentiating factor of netnography from other research methods is the participative culture of studying these online groups. The following three stages have been proposed by Kozinets (2010) for researchers to use when in the methodological process of their study – entrée, data collection and analysis and interpretation.


The first step of the methodological process is the Entrée, where the researcher must formulate research questions and select an appropriate online community to study (Kozintes, 2010). Creswell (2014) advises qualitative and mixed method researchers to choose broad questions that ask for ‘an exploration of the central phenomenon or concept in a study’ (Creswell, 2014, pg. 139). This perspective fits within the scope of the netnographic approach as the open exploratory method suits the novel context of internet cultures and online communities. This process was taken into consideration when formulating the three research objectives for this study.

Netnography and Facebook

Users of social networking sites such as Facebook have the ability to interact, share and connect with one another; exchanging values, leaving comments and offering support in a specialised environment. A research platform should be selected by its “relevance to the research at hand, regularity of communication activity, interactivity between members, substantiality, heterogeneous members and opportunity for descriptively rich data” (Kozinetz, 2010, pg. 89). Facebook closed groups are an appropriate choice of an online community for studying the information and support sharing mechanisms of Chronic Pain sufferers. Facebook as a platform for online community creation is an appropriate choice as it also aligns with research guidelines presented by Kozinets (2010).

Data Collection

The second stage of the netnographical process is data collection. The types of data collected for this study were retrieved from qualitatively analysing a Chronic Pain specific closed Facebook group and quantitative survey data was collected from members of 5 different Chronic Pain specific closed Facebook groups (including the group that was analysed qualitatively). This approach was used as it offers purposive sampling (Jupp, 2006), meaning that only relevant information for the study was collected from within specific groups rather than throughout the entirety of Facebook. Purposive sampling is based upon a variety of criteria which includes specialist knowledge of the research area, or capacity and willingness to participate in the research. Netnographic data collection often requires “communication with the members of a community or culture” (Kozintes, 2010, pg. 95) and the research subjects for this study were no different as permissions from administrators were required before joining the closed groups and conducting the research.

Research Subjects

When canvassing closed Chronic Pain groups, the researcher liaised with the administrators of selected closed Chronic Pain specific closed Facebook groups. Chronic Pain Support goup – selected for the qualitative part of the study to analyse, code the posts and interactions within the group and to open up the quantitative survey to its members.  Along with this, four other Chronic Pain specific closed Facebook support groups participated in the qualitative survey. All administrators of these closed pages were contacted prior to the research commencement date and the researcher was accepted as a member into each of these groups as the content of the groups in inaccessible for those who are not members. Individuals had the opportunity to opt in to take the survey on the selected pages that it was shared on and the administrator of Chronic Pain Support goup – to the members that if they wished, they would happily be excluded from the qualitative study. As no questions were being asked directly to members of the closed group, observational data was collected from this group, analysing the thematic of posts, frequency of responses and engagement amongst group members.

Netnographic Data

When exploring the constructs of communities online, netnography can be broken down into four different data types, archival netnographic data, elicited netnographic data, netnographic fieldwork data and netnographic interview (Kozinets, 2010). Archival netnographic data is stored data online and is said to provide netnographers with a “convenient bank of observational data” (Kozinets, 2010, pg. 104) and elicited netnographic data sees the researcher offering content to participants before their participation in the study. Netnographic fieldwork data refers to the observations and reflections made by the researcher during the study of participants within an online community; drawing potential conclusions regarding their interactions and netnographic interviews work much like an open-ended online survey (Kozinets, 2010).

Netnographic Field Work Data

Observations of online communities, their members and interactions can be observed and documented by observational field notes (Kozintes, 2010). Observational data collection methods span research paradigms, and qualitative approaches contribute by their focus on ‘natural’ settings which allow the elucidation of social processes and phenomena (Walshe, Ewing & Griffiths, 2012). The closed Facebook Chronic Pain support groups presented an effective way to analyse community members and their interactions who were all brought together by a common topic.

Observational research techniques have advantages over other qualitative data collection methods when the focus of research is on understanding actions, roles and behaviour. However, a major issue that presents itself in the nature of this type of data collection is the lack of anonymity in virtual communities (Kozintes, 2010).  Fortunately in this study, the researcher had to be accepted into the group with the permission of an administrator and then it was the administrator that informed their group about the study. In this situation, it allowed the researcher to conduct their research using a trusted ‘insider’ within the group to gain credibility with group members. It also assisted in providing a space for the most ‘natural’ responses (Walshe, Ewing & Griffiths, 2012).

Conventionally, anthropologists immersed themselves in the world of ‘outsiders’, the people that they are researching, often for prolonged periods in order to gain trust and understanding of the people they are working with (Hannerz, 2003). This participant role reflects a belief that deep familiarity is required to obtain the best data, achieved by getting emotionally, physically and socially close to the people being studied (Lofland, 1995).

Analysis and Interpretation

When analysing qualitative data and inductive approach is taken that breaks down the whole data that is collected and compares each individual basic element in different ways. During this process content from the closed Facebook group is coded. The raw data needs to undergo interpretation and be refined before it is “cast into theoretical form that brings us new understanding” (Kozinets, 2010, pg. 119). Content analysis will aid in this netnographic study, monitoring the interaction between members of the closed Facebook group and investigating the level of support that this community is offering. The data will be coded through qualitative analysis program, Nvivo so that it is directly captured from the closed Facebook group for the two week period. In the analysis of quantitative findings, data will be analysed and cross-tabulated through the use of quantitative analysis program, SPSS.

Content analysis

Content analysis can provide useful and important information about conversations held without the researcher being present (Bjornsdottir, 1999; Neuendorf, 2002). It explores the systematic, objective and quantitative analysis of message characteristics. The most distinctive characteristic of content analysis that differentiates it from other more qualitative methods is its attempt to meet the standards of the scientific method (Neuendorf, 2002, pg. 10); entailing a systematic reading of a body of texts, images and symbolic matter, not necessarily from an author or user’s perspective. Content analysis can be described as focusing on the “characteristics of language as communication with attention to the content or contextual meaning” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005, pg. 1278). The goal of content analysis is to create systematic and objective criteria for transforming written text into highly reliable data that can be analysed for the symbolic content of communication (Singleton & Straits, 2005)

Rather than having a single method of content analysis, contemporary applications outline three distinctive approaches: conventional, directed, or summative (Krippendorff, 2013). Conventional content analysis is often used when there is restricted literature obtainable within a subject area. Summative content analysis involves counting and contrasts of text, usually of keywords or content, followed by the elucidation of the underlying context. Directed content analysis denotes a researcher referring to and expanding upon current theory, which can help to lead the research in a certain direction, as opposed to the tractability of the conventional content analysis method. This study applies conventional content analysis as there is little published on the topic of virtual communities and virtual social support available for people living with Chronic Pain.

Contemporary content analysis also encompasses three idiosyncratic characteristics: it is an empirically grounded process that is explanatory and predictive; it transcends traditional actions of symbols, intents and comments and enables researchers to execute and produce results (Krippendorff, 2013).

The qualitative approaches that have been employed in this study are discourse analysis and netnographic content analysis. Discourse analysis looks at the representation of a distinct occurrence, in this case, the occurrence of virtual communities of Chronic Pain sufferers sharing their experiences and support via Facebook communicative mechanisms. Netnographic content analysis encourages the creation of context which emerges from texts and takes into account the setting, images and styles of participants that are involved in the study (Krippendorff, 2013).

Data triangulation is the process undertaken by researchers when collecting and analysing data in order to validate their results. The primary purpose of triangulation is to eliminate or reduce biases and increase the reliability and validity of the study (Jonsen & Jehn, 2009). The type of triangulation that was utilised for this research was observer triangulation (Wilson, 2006). This method of triangulation offers selected observers the opportunity to test the coding framework for the study and determine whether the data collection methods are reliable or unreliable. Three senior academics were chosen to triangulate a sample of posts and code them accordingly. This was done to ensure comprehensive results were achieved where content analysis was validated.

An inductive method of content analysis was used to categorise the coded section research. All categories for the qualitative section of this study were data-driven, qualitative data analysis is inductive as it lets key categories and data emerge from the data. Shown below is the inductive process which will serve as a guide for collecting and organising qualitative data. The process of this data coding calls for an effective system to develop and categorise data and a way to abstract results (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008).

Figure: Content Analysis: Preparing, organising and reporting in (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008, pg. 110)


Data collected whilst using this coding practice, was analysed using open coding, basing the coding structure on the meaning that emerges from the data. The main intent of open coding is to break down the data into segments in order to interpret them (Benaquisto, 2008). This is done by capturing all of the data that was posted in the closed Facebook group over the research period and then arranging the data under categories summarising themes found within the data source.

Message based coding involves the analysis of the content, structure of the message (Strijbos, et al., 2006) the timeliness of the message response and the thematic of the message. Message based coding is achieved by examining each post collected and extracting the main ideal found within the post, then coding the posts according to the framework. To ensure the validity of the analysis, a sample of the data collected was cross-coded by three senior academics (Wilson, 2006).

The coding scheme that was developed for this research was based on past studies of online communities (Donelle & Hoffman-Goetz, 2008; Ginossar, 2008; Liang, 2011) as well as preliminary analysis of randomly selected posts shared by users within the closed Facebook group.

As Table 1 illustrates, categories were split in to two types of posts that a member of the group could make; a query or a share. These two types were then split further to encompass an informational query / informational emotional query and informational share / informational emotional share. Informational support was defined as the behaviour of providing advice, guidance or information about a topic, but still encompasses emotional undertones as people do not choose to become members of these kinds of groups if they do not have any emotional investment in the condition. Informational emotional support was then defined as the behaviour of outwardly showing respect, love, care and concern, while still sharing other information within the post (Bloom et al., 2001). All of the codes have examples of a type of post that adheres to the codes specification and can be used as a guide for the coder when analysing the data.

Table 2 presents the three themes identified as most prevalent within closed Chronic Pain specific Facebook groups, looking at Chronic Pain experience shares, coping strategies and Chronic Pain questions. Table 3 demonstrates the basic features of posts including the length of posts, types of responses to the posts and timeliness of responses.

(NOTE: I have left out the tables for this post)

Ethics of Netnography on Facebook

Netnography was developed as a way to “understand interaction amoung online community members” (Kozinets, 2002, pg. 64). A predominant part of conducting any netnographic study is observational research and with that, great emphasis is placed on the ethical practices of the researcher when conducting research in this environment. Kozinets (2010) highlights the importance of practicing ethical research applications within the online realm and suggests that the following procedures are followed:

Step One: Asking Permission

In forums that are hosted on websites, chatrooms or social media closed groups a sites founder and/or administrator is a legitimate gatekeeper that the researcher will need to contact prior to research on the site. For the purpose of this research, five Chronic Pain specific closed Facebook groups were approached, with four only being used to only distribute the quantitative survey that was optional to complete. The final group also had access to the quantitative survey but additionally had the researcher analysed the content of the posts made in this group for a two week period. Consent from all of these groups was granted by the administrators and they then spoke to the members within their groups to inform them of the study. If any members of this group wished to be excluded from this study they were able to contact the administrator or researcher via email at any time during the study.


Figure: Quantitative survey disclaimer for participants


Step Two: Subject Anonymity

Subject confidentiality and offering anonymity to participants is Kozinets’ (2010) second ethical guideline. All Facebook communication collected for this study will be confidential and only the researchers will have access to information on the participants. All participants’ names and photographs will be excluded when distributing final content. As the survey was optional, respondents needed to opt in to complete it and were ensured that no personal data will be recorded. None of the participants within the survey or the content collection will be identified in any way in the publication of results and only aggregated data will be published.

Step Three: Research Feedback

The final guideline for conducting a netnographic study is the feedback stage, whereby the researcher should share feedback with the members of the online community being researched (Kozinets, 2010). The researcher needs to ensure that throughout the entire process they are available to address concerns or questions from the participants that may concern their confidentiality within the study and give them the option to opt out of the study at any time. In the case of this thesis, an open communication with the administrator of the closed group is paramount.


Facebook communication within closed groups

Launching in 2004, Facebook was originally created by Mark Zuckerberg to stay in touch and network with colleagues from university (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Facebook had around 1 million members by the end of its first year in December 2004, and now lays claim to some 1.31 billion monthly users (Facebook Statistics, 2014) – 945 million of which access the site on mobile devices (Ross, 2014). Facebook closed groups offer a private congregation of users, who may not necessarily be previously connected as friends on Facebook but have been brought together by a common interest or objective. For the purpose of this research a closed Chronic Pain Support Facebook group was analysed. When applying netnographic research principles to this facet of Facebook, participants within a select group were observed for data collection, focusing on the content that they were posting, sharing and commenting on within said group.

Facebook closed groups are an important part of the platforms environment as they allow for people to share experiences that they may not wish to share with people that know them in the face to face world. Within the group environment on Facebook, protocols and guidelines are monitored by administrators who have the control of the group composition as they accept members to join the group. In addition to everything that group members can do, a group administrator can: edit the group description, tags and setting, add more admins to a group and remove abusive posts and remove or block members (Facebook Group Admin Roles, 2014). This is important as groups with sensitive content or groups that do not want to be searchable on Facebook by the general population will have the option to change their settings. Although others cannot see who has joined a closed group on Facebook, a level of personal disclosure from members of the group is needed to make the group a success (Dumenco, 2009). Members of the closed group are able to post within the group, share links and create events for group members. Figure shows a screenshot within the Chronic Pain Support goup – analysed in this study.

Figure: Screen shot of the ‘Chronic Pain Support Goup’ page that has been qualitatively analysed. Right panel shows the group description, amount of member and middle panel is the feed for posts.


Chapter four has demonstrated how the research design was executed. The coding method for qualitative data collection was explained and the ethical implication of netnographic research was discussed in details. Communication methods within Facebook were discussed and an overview of the closed group was given. The following chapter will examine the results of this data analysis and discuss findings in relation to the three research propositions put forward in chapter three.

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