Conducting research design in a pandemic

Learn how Facebook and Instagram researchers are adapting to the unprecedented challenges of 2020.

This year has already been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with massive protests in the US against police brutality and systemic racism. These two events have caused major changes in almost every aspect of our lives.

While people s lives may have changed, the need for research has remained unchanged. Facebook Inc. research has always played a pivotal role in creating and improving tools that enable people to bring the world closer together through communities. Our mission is now more important than ever before. Research on Facebook and Instagram has helped shape the foundations of products that help people stay safe, stay informed, and stay connected. In addition, they support small and large businesses. We collaborate and conduct research remotely, relying on our creativity and flexibility.

Changing road maps

When people s needs change suddenly, research roadmaps must change. For some teams, this meant putting the project on hold and focusing on urgent issues. Other teams quickly responded to the sudden emergence of hyper-relevant features by focusing only on the main parts of elaborate research plans.

Consider Facebook s new reaction “We are together” (Care) as an example. Because many people are going through difficult times, it is very important to show concern for others. Reactions give Facebook users more ways to react to a post: Like, Super, Haha, Wow, Sorry, Outrageous. In early 2020, our team s research roadmap involved examining expressions of social support. But it soon became clear that we couldn t wait to give people the opportunity to show concern. Therefore, we have accelerated the timeframe from 2-3 months to 2-3 weeks.

Upcoming Workshops

To do this, we needed to prioritize the most important research that can be done within a given time frame. First, we ve put together use cases to understand when and how people want to show support. We then worked with the designers to test the concept well. Finally, we worked with developers to get a sense of user experience through a survey. A new reaction “We are together” was officially added at the end of April. After its launch, we conducted an additional survey to better understand how the response works in an intercultural context and whether it will become permanent or temporary.

Conducting research design in a pandemic

It was not easy to develop, research and run a reaction in a few weeks, working as a completely remote team. We dealt with the impossibility of getting together in one room to discuss details and ideas.

Need to get more inventive

For a long time, researchers from all over the world were unable to conduct face-to-face research. And because people have so many worries right now, participating in a remote research session may not be on their list of priorities. Therefore, researchers have applied creative methods to help people who use our products. Past research has become an invaluable source of information.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, teams began to think about its implications for mental as well as physical health, and teams were quick to identify areas where people would need the most support in the near future. The Instagram Well-being team analyzed information about the impact of past crises on people s mental health, as well as our current understanding of mental health problems that could escalate. This influenced product ideas, such as the easy-to-read Wellness Guide, which includes secondary research and resources.

Guides (sample here) are a recently added way to find recommendations, tips, and other content from creators, community leaders, organizations, and publishers on Instagram. Other teams on Instagram recently used the guide to voice our position against racism and provide people with resources to take action for racial justice (sample here).

Conducting research design in a pandemic
Conducting research design in a pandemic
Conducting research design in a pandemic

When a team needs more than secondary research, creativity using observation methods can help product teams move forward. On Instagram, we noticed that people organically show support for small local businesses – for example, post a photo taken in a restaurant before the pandemic and say that they will definitely return there. The team set out to find ways to transform fans into small business marketers who are doing their best to stay afloat during these difficult times.

We decided to make a “Support Small Business” sticker on which people could enter the name of a small business. The result is a sticker with thumbnails of three of the company s most popular posts. This product has simplified the natural behavior of users through observation and made this behavior more useful for small businesses. During the first week after adding a new sticker to Instagram, when people used it, their file was added to the general Instagram Story “SupportSmall”, which helped significantly increase the post s reach.

Conducting research design in a pandemic

The transition to evaluative thinking

Sometimes researchers need to do fundamental work to identify the biggest problems people face. In other cases, people s problems are quite clear and topical. For many researchers, working during this challenging time required a shift towards evaluative thinking by reactively investigating whether the design concepts we are studying are satisfying people s needs.

Over the past few months, Instagram has developed and added a series of “solidarity” stickers. These stickers emphasize the need to stay safe at home (StayHome, #IStayAtHomeFor); express a feeling of gratitude to the people working on the front lines (ThankYou, ThankYouHealthHeroes, ThankYouHour); and help provide financial support (Donate).

The team is still analyzing and collecting data, but the stickers, especially the StayHome set, have generated a strong response. Users from all over the world have used this sticker over 300 million times! But how did people perceive, understand, and use these stickers? The research team helped add color to the metrics through interviews with young people and adolescents from the US and India (1: 1). We found that mostly users understood the stickers correctly and that this initiative was able to generate a sense of solidarity during the COVID crisis.

“I think it’s needed to show appreciation and love… like, Hey guys, we know it s very difficult for you right now. We want you to know what we think of you ”… I love hugs. Now I cannot hug the people I love. It s difficult … but I can share something like that. “

– Study participant describing the purpose of the ThankYouHour sticker

Additional quality information pointed the way to other sticker elements that we will expand in the future. This study also provided answers that failed to provide metric data, such as the importance of intentionality of the message.

Collaborate on changes

Making sure our products continue to serve people and help them stay connected, even as their needs change rapidly, was challenging and inspiring. But the rapid change has prompted us to become more creative and resourceful in how we shape research questions and how we answer them. The changes forced us to take quick turns. While we, as researchers, can always resort to observation, we relied heavily on secondary research. We hope to be able to use the knowledge gained as we emerge from this turbulent time.

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