Update June 28: Here is the dataset of my survey of these students on Google Sheets or download it from Figshare. Feel free to use it but please let me know!!
Anders and I are researching Snapchat stories. Mostly we’re watching hundreds and hundreds of stories to see what kinds of narrative techniques people use, but we also want to know what regular users actually think about stories. Do they watch stories much? Do they make stories? What do they think is a good story?
So yesterday I visited a class of media students at a local high school. They’re planning a TV journalism project for the autumn where they’ll use Snapchat as well as making more conventional news stories, so I gave a short lecture about storytelling in Snapchat and then we had the most excellent class discussion about it, after which they generously filled out a short questionnaire I had prepared. I feel like I got a lot out of this meeting, and hope to visit several other schools too – if you’re a high school teacher near Bergen and would like a visit, let me know!
I haven’t gone through the written responses yet, but there were a lot of insightful comments from the classroom discussion. So I’m using this blog post as a research journal, writing out the student comments I noted down and found particularly useful, and that I may want to quote in future research. The facts: this was a class of thirty-five 16-17-year olds in a Norwegian high school (VG1, medielinjen) on June 1, 2016. I didn’t make a recording, because I didn’t want to deal with handling research data that can be tied to an individual, so this is based on my handwritten notes.
The teachers started off the discussion asked why they like Snapchat – to the teachers, Snapchat stories look like badly done television, and they wondered why the students wouldn’t rather watch better-quality YouTube videos or something.
“It’s easily available,” said one student (lett tilgjengelig was the Norwegian expression), and many others supportived her. “Isn’t YouTube just as easily available?” a teacher asked. The students didn’t have a real answer for that, but they clearly felt Snapchat was more available. I suspect this might be due to the feed in Snapchat. You don’t have to think about what to watch next. You just open the app and start clicking.
A lot (maybe most?) of the students said they like Snapchat because they like seeing their friends’ lives. A substantial number of the students only have their actual friends on Snapchat (I’m guessing more than half? I’ll get the numbers when I go through the written responses) but there are also quite a few who follow celebrities and bloggers they don’t know personally. A student who does follow celebrities said she liked seeing their Snapchat stories because “it’s more personal” (det blir mer personlig når du følger kjendiser på Snapchat). Other students nodded and added that they liked the behind the scenes content.
When asked why they published snaps to their own stories, one student commented, “It’s easy, because you don’t have to plan it.” Others chimed in, saying that there was so little pressure. You can just snap something and post it without worrying too much about it. On the other hand, one student said he far preferred Instagram to Snapchat because the photos are better, precisely because people take more time and are more selective about which photos they post to Instagram.
One really interesting point that came up was the idea of a social media feed as stressful. One student said she liked Snapchat because it wasn’t stressful like Facebook is. “Why is Facebook stressful?” a teacher asked. “There’s just too much! The timeline never ends,” she said (Facebook er stress. Det er for mye på Facebook. Tidslinjen tar aldri slutt.) This seemed to be a feeling shared by many of the students. A young man echoed the first student: “There is always more on Facebook,” he said. “Yes, on Snapchat I only follow people I want to see,” another student said, but then followed up, saying “Well, except the ones I don’t really want to see. I just click through them quickly to make them go away.” I wondered why they clicked through the snaps rather than just swiped the story away, but I don’t think I really got an answer. Maybe to see whether there was something interesting at the end of the story? Or maybe because of the knowledge that the person who posted it would have
A lot of the students seemed to feel this need to cleanse their feeds or to keep their feeds empty. One of the students actually used the term cleanse (rense): “I click through all the stories to clean them away.” (Jeg klikker gjennom for å rense de vekk.) So it seems they like that they have fewer friends on Snapchat than Facebook, thus fewer items in their feeds, and that the fact that stories disappear after 24 hours maybe isn’t just about privacy but about being able to start with a clean slate, or not feel that there was more information than you could handle.
Here is of one of the survey responses I received, transcribed in my handwriting and translated from Norwegian. I’m a humanities scholar, and I’ve not done this kind of research before, so to be honest, I haven’t even figured out how to get my stack of 40 responses entered into a spreadsheet. I started bravely, but only got to the third question, where the student has (as intended) crossed off several options, before my spreadsheet broke down. Do I use several cells in the spreadsheet for each question? Maybe I don’t type in the full response but generate some kind of codes? Like this, maybe: Informant 1, uses-several-times-a-day, sent-snaps-today, didn’t-post-snapto-story-today, posted-snap-to-story-last-week. That is going to be very time-consuming. Is there better software? A better system for organising it? If you have any ideas, please let me know! I’d like to make the dataset public, so it’d be good to organise the data in a way that is useful to me as well as others. (I assume this is social science methods 101 but hey, I’m from the humanities…)
I really enjoyed this post — thank you.
Have you considered using a tool like NVivo that is tailored for qualitative analysis? I used that towards the end of my doctorate and found it pretty helpful for the kind of data you are dealing with.
Also, have you thought about taking some of this work to the Web Science conference? It’s certainly relevant!