Connective visual mapping: Methodological approaches to visual social media data
With more than one billion active monthly users, Instagram is one of most popular and fastest-growing social media platforms worldwide, making it a key site for social research. However, existing research has overwhelming centered on text-driven platforms such as Twitter, which has allowed for the establishment of rigorous and diverse methodologies and research tools (Highfield and Leaver, 2016). As methodological approaches to visual social media in general are currently in their
infancy, this presentation details an original method for analysing visual social media data – what I term ‘connective visual mapping’ - utilised during a two-year platform study of Instagram (McCrow-Young, 2020, McCrow-Young, 2021). Connective visual mapping is a platform-specific method that addresses the nuanced and dynamic site of the networked image and its environment, using a number of digital tools to collate and analyse data. It involves macro mapping of tag data and micro mapping of specific examples and profile connections within the platform interface.
Few methodological approaches and research tools geared towards visual social media exist for three main reasons: firstly, connective media research has primarily focused on text-centric platforms such as Twitter (Bruns and Hanusch, 2017); secondly, because of the functional restrictions related to commercial platforms like Instagram; and thirdly, as a result of the nature of visual content itself. This presentation thus adds to emerging discussions related to approaching visual social media data, and the ways in which social researchers respond to the ethical and platform challenges of collecting Instagram data (Leaver et al., 2020). Conducting research in a commercial space such as Instagram, which continues to make technological, as well as policy changes necessitates adopting a flexible,platform-specific approach. Therefore, the method ‘connective visual mapping’ takes
into account the shifting context of the platform’s development, with the aim of facilitating further scholarly discussions about the particular challenges and opportunities for visual social media methods.
Ally McCrow-Young is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Communication at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her research focuses on the intersection of visual social media methods, critical data studies and connective action. Ally is a core member of the collective research group ‘Images of Conflict, Conflicting Images’ (Velux Foundation), which explores how digital images and connective media transform the public discourse of global conflict events. Her current research examines the mobilisation of data visualizations and open data sharing for the purposes of activism, protest and solidarity by marginalized communities