Using social media data for practical research: Analysing the #Nymphgate event at the Manchester Art Gallery


Maria Arias, University of Manchester, UK

“How can we talk about the collection in ways which are relevant in the 21st century?” — this was the first question that greeted visitors at the Manchester Art Gallery in the space previously occupied by Hylas and the Nymphs, a renowned Victorian painting by J. W. Waterhouse. The Gallery invited its visitors to respond and take part in conversation through post-its, on their blog, and on social media platforms with the hashtag #MAGSoniaBoyce. In an unexpected turn of events, the public reactions to this removal and artistic intervention were overwhelmingly negative as visitors and members of the public took to Twitter to voice their concerns.

Here, I will showcase the methods I used to collect and analyse Twitter data (such as TAGS, Tableau, and NVivo), as well as reflect on the practical and ethical implications of using this type of information for research. Using the results of an analysis of over 21, 000 tweets, I will highlight how using social media for research enabled me to discern the relationships between the Gallery’s practices, online ad hoc publics, contemporary social/political issues, and traditional media. In turn, I will discuss the potential impact of online audiences and social media platforms to the brand of this art museum.

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