Analyzing YouTube Comments with NVivo

Beauty has long been a topic of interest, from philosophers who struggled to define it to artists who sought to portray it. And now, with an entire industry devoted to products and procedures that claim to enhance it, it is a treasure trove of research with implications for everything from sociology to marketing.

Researchers also have a new avenue for collecting and analyzing data on beauty: social media. That’s where Jenna Koske went for her undergraduate research project for the College of Business at James Madison University. Specifically, she studied beauty YouTubers—individuals who do video makeup tutorials and product reviews on the platform—and how comments on their videos illuminated shifts in gender roles and identity, the effect of parasocial relationships, and the commercial implications of beauty influencers. Dr. Stacy Penna talked to
Ms. Koske about the project for the
46th episode of the Between the Data podcast.

“I knew I wanted to do something within the realm of digital marketing,” said Ms. Koske, explaining how her project aligned with her career goals. In addition, she was interested in exploring how social media impacts our daily lives. Combining the two posed an opportunity to contribute new findings to research.

Focus on Major Beauty Influencers

Ms. Koske chose to focus on three beauty YouTubers with significant followings:

Ms. Koske had a solid background in NVivo already, having helped out her advisor—who wanted to highlight NVivo’s usefulness for undergraduate research—by analyzing papers with the software for demonstration purposes and creating tutorials.  For her own project, she used an online bot to scrape the top comments from a selection of the influencers’ most popular videos, which she exported into XML files and then imported into NVivo.

From the top comments for the top 25 videos for each YouTuber, Ms. Koske collected a total of almost 2000 comments. The data included user names, the date it was posted, and the number of up votes and replies as well as the content of the comment. From this, she developed 13 themes and eight attributes.

To compare the prominence of the themes among the three influencers, she used the matrix coding query to count how many times each theme appeared as well as any overlaps and combinations. “This gave me a really good starting point to examine the comments in a more unstructured, qualitative way,” she says.

Key Findings

The themes of “laughter” and “amusement” were often signaled by commenters making jokes, which Ms. Koske calls “indicating that commenters “feel a personal connection with the YouTuber,” a critical component of parasocial relationships.

Tati’s commenters tended to fall into the themes of “desire,” “nostalgia,” and “suggestion.” “A lot of her users really wanted to provide ideas and what content she should post next,” Ms. Koske says.

Comments in her “disbelief” and “makeup compliment” themes were much higher for James and Nikki than for Tati, which led Ms. Koske to question whether their talent and creativity with makeup was more surprising to commenters because James is a man and more impressive because Nikki is transgender. James had the most negative comments, but Nikki had the most positive, which Ms. Koske surmised was related to the overwhelming amount of support Nikki received after revealing her transgender status.

Ms. Koske also noted the different ways the influencers developed trust and community with fans and commenters. Nikki “was all about portraying herself as very genuine and authentic,” she says. Disclosing that she is transgender actually brought her more support. James refers to his followers as “sisters,” which Ms. Koske says he uses in an inclusive sense despite the word’s gendered definition.  Tati developed credibility for her objective and straightforward product reviews, which Ms. Koske posits allows her “to walk this line between professionalism and being the big sister maternal figure.”

Implications for the Cosmetics Industry

Ms. Koske’s findings have significance for beauty and cosmetics companies and their marketing efforts. She points out that user-generated content like YouTube videos and comments are valuable sources for target market research on consumer behavior and characteristics as well as pain points. For instance, she noticed commenters on Tati’s videos complaining about a lack of affordable products and not enough diverse shades of foundation—which could help companies identify gaps in the market. James’ popularity could point to a potential customer base for products aimed at men, who she says are starting to care more about hygiene and appearance.

She also found that consumers of cosmetics and other beauty products often view influencers as more trustworthy than ads and other marketing materials. “Companies need to align themselves with someone that they think represents their brand well,” she says.

Ms. Koske’s advice to other undergraduates doing research projects: “Find something that you’re really passionate about.”  In this case, Ms. Koske’s interests in social media, gender, and beauty led to her receiving the honor of presenting her research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research this past April.

Learn more about this research:
Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Navigating Online Qualitative Research

Dr. Janet Salmons interviewed by Dr. Stacy Penna, Engagement and Enablement Director

NVivo Podcast Between the Data Ep 44

Launched by SAGE Publishing in 2009, MethodSpace is an online community for the discussion of social and behavioral research methods, which gives scholars and students a space to share experiences and solve problems on a global scale.

Dr. Janet Salmons is MethodSpace’s Research Community Manager, a methodologist, or as she likes to call herself, “a researcher about research”, applying academic discipline to the activity of conducting research. She is also the author of “Doing Qualitative Research Online”, an acknowledged leader of the field.

In the latest episode of the NVivo Podcast, “Between the Data”, QSR’s Engagement and Enablement Director, Dr. Stacy Penna learns Dr. Salmons’ best-practice advice for conducting research online both effectively and ethically.

>> Listen to the Full NVivo Podcast Here

Dr. Salmons has been charting the opportunities and challenges of conducting qualitative research online since the early 2000’s. Across 20 years, the tools at the researcher’s disposal have ballooned: audio, webinars, chats, whiteboards and more. That’s just the one-to-one methods; add solicitations for comment on platforms like Twitter and further new paradigms emerge: clearly contributors will speak differently in public and in the constraints of 280 characters than they will in a more private and nuanced in-depth interview.

Janet says it’s therefore crucial to be both consistent and mindful of the medium used: “Every part of the research design needs to be approached differently when you are conducting it online. You need an iterative, holistic approach to think it through. Because once you make one decision, it will have implications for the other design decisions.”

Similarly, the online environment will present new ethical dimensions. Says Dr. Salmons, “On some social media platforms, if you are collecting data there, you can’t promise your IRB or ethics review board that you can protect that data - because someone else owns it.” But that’s only the start. Dr. Salmons’ book devotes three chapters to research ethics, but the fundamental challenge of the online environment is that the ability to reach more subjects than ever creates a distance and impersonality that might allow standards to drop. “I ask people to think about the integrity of the role of the researcher”, Dr. Salmons, “because nobody’s looking. What are your own values? And especially when the answers you’re getting are not the answers you were hoping to get, are you going to be true to the data?”

This is particularly important as, in a world where socio-politically we appear to be living in a time of public mistrust, Salmons feels that academics have a role to play in being cheerleaders for rebuilding that trust on the firm foundation of discipline and facts.

NVivo's role in conducting research at scale

Dr. Salmons says, “Whether you are a student or an experienced researcher, part of the challenge is just keeping track of all of the materials.”

But tools like NVivo are more than just a useful repository. Given her concern for a consistent approach to all participants in research and across what may be multiple platforms and sources of data, NVivo’s support for multiple media types means that qualitative researchers can both glean more insight and ensure rigorous review of the data.. She gives the example of video interviews, where the background – from the books on a shelf or the organized/chaotic nature of a room can be hugely informative. These are the visual cues which get lost in a pure transcription.

“It’s wonderful to be in the physical presence of other people”, says Salmons, but if you’re doing an interview on a video-conferencing platform, you can record the visuals, diagrams, photographs and artifacts that you’re discussing. You can see the response, a person’s facial expressions and nonverbals, and it’s all recorded in one place.” In this sense, NVivo allows for dramatically more analysis of multiple types of date for the researcher.

Listen to the NVivo Podcast for more of Janet Salmons’ taxonomy of online qualitative research and how NVivo is helping researchers make the most of academics’ digital assets.

To learn more about Dr. Salmons’ advice for online qualitative research, watch this on demand webinar Connecting for Collecting Data: Qualitative Research Online with Human Participants.