A PhD in Social Media

Jillian Ney
Dr Jillian Ney Social Media Insight and Intelligence Consultant, Disruptive Insight

Posted on June 2nd 2011

When people ask about my PhD they always seem to be intrigued about it.  I’m often asked ‘how can you do a PhD in social media?’ followed by ‘that’s really cool!’.  Well, yes, it is.
 I recently met an old friend who I hadn’t seen in about five years.  He was asking what I was doing and seemed impressed about my doctoral pursuit.  When he asked about the topic and I said social media, he laughed.  When I asked why he was laughing he said, so you sit on Twitter and Facebook all day.  He didn’t seem to believe me that social media was much more dynamic and complex than Facebook and Twitter. 
 So, yes I am doing a PhD on social media. 

With a topic of ‘determining the credibility of social content’ there are theoretical frameworks from which the study is based.  I’m not making up airy fairy data sets or developing theories that are actually descriptions.  I recently looked into social object theory – if you have seen this be rest assured it is not a ‘theory’.  After all I have to get a PhD at the end of the research.

The fact that so many people are social media ‘experts’ or ‘gurus’ is not helping credibility of my doctoral research either.  Too many people seem to be quick to adopt the term expert.  And guru makes me think of spiritual healers.  That may be just me but please don’t use the term guru!

Rant over, back to the PhD.  I’m about to launch the main survey element of my research.  It’s getting exciting and about to get very busy and I feel I need to be nose deep in quantitative books.  Need to get the analysis right!

So, yes, I am doing a PhD in social media.  It is credible and is grounded in theory and it will make a contribution to both academia and industry.  I’ve given myself an October completion date.  Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for me J    

Jillian Ney

Dr Jillian Ney

Social Media Insight and Intelligence Consultant, Disruptive Insight

Dr Jillian is the first Dr of Social Media.  She is CEO of Disruptive Insight, a social intelligence consultancy who specialise in transforming digital noise into valuable insight for business.  Dr Jillian is also a visiting academic at the University of Strathclyde where she lectures on digital marketing and social media.

Dr Jillian's PhD research explored social consumer behaviour during an active purchase decision and how credibility of social content is determined.  As a result she has expert knowledge in the role social media plays during purchase decisions and in play, she can also accurately predict what content will hold increased influence in persuasion.

After her PhD, Dr Jillian developed cutting edge frameworks to segment and analyse social data for business.  Her input into the Yomego 'How to Value Social Advocacy' whitepaper has won her advocates in the digital marketing industry.  

Tired of the 'social media campaign' culture Dr Jillian, decided to create a consultancy that reflected her personal values and social media ethos.  After a chance encounter where a Glasgow taxi driver ridiculed Dr Jillian about her choice of career, she decided to maker her mission in life to increase the credibility and accountability of social media and emerging technologies in business. 

Jillian’s key goal is to use data led and behavioural insight to help businesses create shared value and exceptional experiences with their customers.

See Full Profile >


Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 10:57AM

I am doing a phd in social media and eGov! Join the club! :)

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:04AM

Hi Eleni,

It's great to see other social media researchers, the topic is getting a lot of academic attention but some people are surprised about it. I dont know much about social media and eGOV as I'm in marketing.  How is the research coming along?

Best of luck


Posted on February 27th 2012 at 4:38AM

hi jillian


I want to do a phd in social media, however iam realy very confused when it comes to the topic and mainly the framework of my research ... i live in the middle east and i can apply my research ot this interesting region , however, since u already strated ur Phd and exposed to so many other research topic in this area, i was wondering if you can assit or recommend a specific topic / research/and hypothesis  for the social media topic.

second,  i have a concern regarding the academic reviews, i found very few academic reviews and " theories" pertainaing to social media.. what do you think?

thank you , appreciate your assistance 

Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 11:58AM

I am about to start one on social media and knowledge sharing. Just as many gurus spoiling critical investigation there, but fortunately a lot of research has been done on the problems that earlier platfroms brought to the fore. The impression I have so far is that many difficulties are comparable. In that sense social media may not be such a world apart from earlier solutions. I can only hope that digital loudmouthing in the shape of marketeers trying to sell their 'solutions' will be manageable...

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:11AM

Hi Eric,

I don't think the noise is going to subside any time soon, it's going to take time for that.

Good luck with your research! I have a friend who is doing something similar in entrepreneurship circles - would you mind if I gave her your details?


Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 12:36PM

Awesome! Can't wait to hear about the results. I'm taking some time off my PhD in sociology - I do research on Craigslist Missed Connections. I know exactly what you mean about "that's so crazy! but cool!" reactions.

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:13AM

That is an interesting research topic! Keep me posted on your progress and good luck =]

Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 5:30PM

Finally some more PhD researchers in the domain of social media! I'm also doing a PhD in social media and entrepreneurship and I'm also tired of those self-proclaimed social media gurus. All they do is name a bunch of best case scenarios and add some meaninless words to them... Case X definitely used openess to promote Y. Openess... in what sense?

They earn a lot of money by just listing those best case scenarios and that's okay. The sad thing about it is that solid research is disqualified by it and we are considered to be researching a fad.

Currently I'm trying to see how to gather data from social media. Does anyone of you also face this hurdle?

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:17AM

Hi Erik,

Again, great to see another social media researcher. I'm thinking it may be useful to have a network for social media researchers to share ideas, stories and network for possible joint publications.

I have a friend who is looking at social media knowledge sharing in entrepreneurship (I'm almost certain that is her topic). Would you mind if I pass your details to her? It may be good to network.

Good luck with the research


Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 5:38PM

My masters dissertation is on social media, not quite a research PhD but I have had alot of support. Looking for people to interview for my primary research though if anyone feels like helping!

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:21AM

Hi Gemma,

Great to hear you are getting good support! What is your topic and what do we have to do in the interview?

I'm pretty busy with conferences and things just now but we could possibly arrange an interview. Always happy to help a fellow researcher.

Good luck!


Courtney Hunt
Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 5:47PM

Congratulations - and best of luck - to all of you! Though I'm not surprised, I consider this great news.

Coincidentally, I just published this post: Social Media Education and Training: Where We Are. Where We’re Going. 

I invite folks to check it out and share their feedback, additional resources, etc. Thanks!

And since Jillian brought it up, I'll mention another post I published earlier in the week: Social Media Experts: Yes, they Exist. Yes, You Should Hire Them. But Do Your Due Diligence.

For some reason hyperlinking the post titles triggered the spam filter. I'll try including links again, but if I can't you can find the articles on the SMinOrgs blog.

Courtney Hunt
Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 5:50PM

Sorry, it won't accept urls. The posts are available on sminorgs.net.

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 3rd 2011 at 1:07AM

Thanks for that Courney. I will have a read =]


Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 9:12PM

How nice to see you all here!!! At last!!!

+1: After years in the industry I decided to do also mine... PhD in social media, at Bournemouth University!!!  Not that close to finish as Jillian, but halfway.  Well mine is on the impact of social media on holiday travel related decisions.  In many aspects its seems very close to Jillian's work, however a holiday is an amagalm of product and services, and more than that there is a travel planning process that does not coincides identically with the decision making process, thus making things a bit ...crazy sometimes. Lets keep in touch guys... Can we all somehow get a bit more connected to exchange thoughts on a more systematic basis?   


Posted on June 2nd 2011 at 10:00PM


I think this is great!


I would love to read your research once it's published! I myself would like to do a PhD in this area as well, however I feel I need a few more years work experience prior to embarking on such a great feat!


Posted on June 5th 2011 at 10:43AM

I'm also doing research for my MA (performance coaching and mentoring) looking at the extent to which social media can support face to face coaching in organisations.

Here's a link that explains (although the questionnaire is closed now)


Good luck with your Phd. Would be interested in looking at your findings


Posted on June 5th 2011 at 11:21PM

Good luck with your survey!

I'm aiming to finish my PhD by early February - I've been looking at how small business owners are using social media to build and maintain networks, as well as marketing their businesses. I have found a similar reception to you... it's a field full of "experts" who aren't all that expert, and onlookers who assume that it's all about reading Facebook all day.

Posted on June 6th 2011 at 5:32AM

don't listen to those 'jump on the bandwagon' cash up quick consultants out there who hang up the social media shingles like every bugger and his dog - you folks are worth your weight in gold giving credence to a field of research that is the way of the future, now. Great job, can't wait to hear about the findings of your research. Cheers, Pete

Jillian Ney
Posted on June 6th 2011 at 9:09AM

Again, thanks for the continuing comment and support.  It is also nice to see so many social media researchers! In response to John's question of being able to converse more frequently, I am now in the middle of setting up a social media researchers online group - it could provide quite a valuable source to communicate with each other and potential for joint publications etc.

I would also say to you John, that our research is almost identical! I am also looking at tourism purchases! Although the model can be used for any industry, product or service.

I would also like to say good luck to everyone! Fingers crossed we all complete on time.

Keep in touch


Posted on June 13th 2011 at 6:51PM

Well done!

I plan to do my phd in social media/health next year and teach a masters Communications course in this area presently.

It is important to integrate it into relevant uni courses and continue researching the area - let's face it there is much to explore.

Jillian Ney
Posted on July 2nd 2011 at 4:43PM

Sorry for the late reply Jenni.  Thanks for your comment and good luck with your research.  And, yes, there is so much to explore.

Posted on June 21st 2011 at 5:50PM

very nice:

It's really a very good PHD idea , I'm now doing a research to get the master degree and i'll talk about social media and it's influance on brand equity >>>I really thank you because you Increased my self-confidence and your words encourage me to go on this way.....sorry for my bad writing , but i'm not so good in english>>>>:)

Jillian Ney
Posted on July 2nd 2011 at 4:42PM

Thanks for your comment, I am glad I can be of some help.  It really is an interesting field and I am confident your research will go well.  Good luck with everything!


Posted on June 24th 2011 at 9:28AM

Darn! You know what Jillian, if ever there is a vocational course for social media, I will take it.. And I will take my masteral, then may doctorate.. Then i'll call.. Xzy PhD.. :)

Posted on July 3rd 2011 at 11:23PM

This is great! Believe it or not, there are a few of us getting PhD's with a focus on social media. I'm currently focusing on Human service nonprofit organizations and characterizing their use of/adoption of social media. There have been others that also have done their dissertation in the area of social media, so the empircal evidence is beginning to emerge. I would be interested in your research if you are willing to share more.



Posted on December 23rd 2011 at 2:20PM







Sandy Barnett
Posted on January 17th 2012 at 12:16AM


I am doing a PHD on Motivations for participation in Virtual Communities of Practice using Social Media. Anyone else with this research interest?

Amy G
Posted on July 10th 2014 at 6:29PM

Sandy, my PhD was in this area - looked at LJ communities and their longevity :)

Francisco Fuentes Figueroa
Posted on February 3rd 2012 at 12:52PM

Hi, Jillian, I'm Journalist and I'm working in a digital agency. I'm from Chile and I want to do a PhD in Social Media. I'm pretty interested in a PhD, because I love to make researches and I think that a diploma isn't enough. So I want to know where did you get the doctoral degree? In what University? I really want to applied.



Aradhana Takhtani Agnihotri
Posted on May 16th 2012 at 8:01AM

Hi Jillian,

I am Anna, a journalist living in Malaysia. While I was trying to search for an online Ph.D in Social Media

I stumbled upon your writing.. and am glad I did. Very interesting. Equally, the responses. It

was quite revealing that there are so many promising researchers out there in the field of social media.

I have not been able to spot any long-distance Ph.D degree..would you be able to guide me/share

something that can sharpen my search?

will be grateful for your guidance,




Posted on December 4th 2012 at 8:19PM

Hi Jillian:

I am Jawdat from Syria, also preparing  proposal for PHD dissertation focus on building strong by using social media marketing. Please can u advise me about the variables to form hypothesises  or tell me about ur hypothesises.

I will be grateful if my comment get ur attention


Posted on July 10th 2014 at 4:25AM

Hey i m also doin my research in socail media. Its gr8 to c many people with d same research area. well i have question on sample size. i simply cant figure out it because the no of fans is large on the official fb pages. for  example louis vitton has more than 10million , how would i take a sample for my phd research. kindly help


Amy G
Posted on July 10th 2014 at 6:28PM

I did my PhD in social media a few years back. Technically it was under the banner of communications, but it was looking at social media communities. People are still amazed when I tell them I did a PhD in social media. It was a lot of fun, basically! :)

Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 11:50AM

Hi Amy,

It was fun! Hard work but fun! 

I'm glad it's all over now thought (what a shock I got when the post went into overdrive again 3 years after I posted it) and I get to apply my knowledge in the real world...


Posted on July 11th 2014 at 1:41AM

Hi Dr. Ney,

To have a Ph.D in social media is incredible. The topic that you researched sounds fascinating. I have a BBA - Marketing specialization, and I've grew up with and sat through lectures about social media. I've worked with businesses that use Facebook and Twitter to create "authentic conversations" with their clients. Also, I am tired of the term "guru" and "expert". These people make too much money for what they claim to do and know. 

I try to accept social media and its impact on today's business and tomorrow's business, but I have troubles understanding how it really works. For example, how does posting on Twitter and Facebook increase a company's sales by 20 per cent. People talk about ROI and metrics used to measure each channel, but it seems like a load of crap. I don't want to turn my back on social media, as I am suppose to be part of a generation who knows how to use it and use it well, but there are days when I want to walk away from it. How can I thought when all the new and hot jobs for new grads are in digital marketing -- especially social media? 

Sorry for my rant.

I applaud you on your accomplishments. I hope to do a masters one day (not an MBA though). 

Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 11:48AM

Thanks Mick!

Good luck with the master pursuit and thanks for the comments.

I too sometimes have a bad day - there is just so much nonsense out there now, it's hard to cut through and there are many, many disillusioned people out there.  I'm personally not a big sharer on social media, if I find something I want to share I do but I'll never make a community manager! I do love my specialism in measuring and analysing the conversations through context and behavioural and emotional sciences though.



Posted on July 11th 2014 at 12:50PM

...Im sorry, but how is a PhD possible for someone with lackluster social media? The ONLY way to become an "expert" is to have proof of how your OWN social media functions. And a very wide deiversity of uses of social networks: in fact, I wouldn't even consider someone beyond being average unless they are on at least 8 social networks for their own company, and all show signs of growth and engagement. 

If YOU cannot show usage for the long term and viability, how can you possibley understand how each social network woks? Aggregating outside data only goes so far, TRUE expertise lies in the daily use of many social networks. 

Is one a "Doctor" if one gives up on their own social?

TO be a PhD and have numbers like this:

Disrutive Insights Twitter: No Tweets since June 25th, 276 Followers

Disruptive Insights Vimeo: 1 video, 0 followers. 

"Dr" Jillian Ney Twitter: No Tweets since June 12th, 2200 followers (since May 2010! 4 years)

Disruptive Insights LinkedIn Company Page: No posts since June 3rd, 48 Followers.

No searchable Facebook Company Page,  A G+ Page that was created with never a post, No YouTube channel, no Instagram or Vine, no Pheed, nothing anywhere else.





Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 11:14AM



Haters gonna hate.

Apparently you have a lot to learn about social media and what consititues knowledge compared to running a social media feed.  I openly say that I am not personally a social media 'lover' or over sharer but I can extract value from other peoples social noise and this is what I bring to my clients - not telling them they MUST be on 8 social networking sites when they dont.



Posted on July 11th 2014 at 4:16PM

Wow - a nasty gram at end of a long series of interested peoples' comments.  Wonder why?

There are over 350 social media sites with more that 10 million participants according to Wikipedia. So does having a Tweet posted in the last 30 days mean much?  And as far as I can tell participating in all of the  social media sites does not garner understanding or appreciation.

Social anthropoligists have been studing material and behavior for a long time without active participation and seem to have gotten most of it right (at least as far a we can tell).

So systematic study of the social, behaviorial and perhaps political implications of social media would not require active participation in all of the chanels possible.  But more appropriately systemis study, measurement and assessment.

As one of those people who works to sell social media services to businesses (who for the most part understand very little) having this kind of study will be most useful.  It will add legitimacy to what is mostly smoke and mirrors today.

A lot can be gained with the proper use of social media by businesses but most see little assurance of its benefits and move forward mostly on thier beliefs that it will provide benefits.  Having an array of studies by smart people will do along way to validating what I try to position with my clients every day.

Terry Retter


Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 10:57AM

Hi Terry,

Thanks for you comments.  I've just had a little laugh at the last comment - clearly one does not do much research or strategy apart from clicking a few Twitter links!

I agree with you that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors today.  Telling people they must be on x number of social networking sites is crazy but still happens.  I feel blessed to be able to use my PhD to help other businesses on a daily basis!  Understanding the theory and behaviours around social media is what drew me to study it in the first place.

Thanks again for you comments.


Anand G Pai
Posted on July 12th 2014 at 6:43AM



I too want to do a Phd in Social media . Can you suggest some nice topic or thrust area ??


Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 10:58AM

Hi Anand,

My advice to anyone wishing to do a PhD in social media is to choose the topic yourself - you have to live with it a number of years!  If you start to read around social media you will see gaps in the knowledge and you attempt to fill that gap.

The process your PhD process takes depends on where you study also.


Posted on July 13th 2014 at 12:41AM

I'm an accounting professor who is anxious to team with another academic researcher in social media.  I would like to be part of an academic network for such purposes.

Two benefits I can see are (1) identification and sharing of journal/conference outlets for academic research into social media, and (2) facilitate researchers meeting and collaborating with others with like interests.

David Albrecht

Professor of Accounting

La Sierra University Zapara School of Business

[email protected]

Posted on July 14th 2014 at 8:24PM

It is fantastic to see all this SM research happening! Very exciting. I am also doing my PhD in social media in health communication, health promotion and knowledge translation at Western University in Canada.

It would be great to start an online Community of Practice so we can all keep tabs on one another :) Thoughts?


Jillian Ney
Posted on August 14th 2014 at 11:00AM

Hi Lyndsay,

Apologies for tardy response - this post was originally sent out in 2011 and I got a shock last month when it made the newsletter again.

A community of practice would be a great idea - why don't I set up a group on LinkedIn? It will be nice to keep in the loop with other research being done in the area.



Posted on July 15th 2014 at 9:40PM

Hi Everyone, 

I am a new PhD candidature in the department of information sysetms and i just started my PhD few months ago. I am still struggling with my tresearch question and focus which is not related to marketing area. I am intersted in examining the use of social media by international students from different background but my supervisors seem not happy as he said its too general and I have to decide what is my focus so could you please help me and give suggestions. he kept asking me to link my research problem with my information systems and I dont know what he means.

plesae help me anfd give me suggestions

Posted on July 24th 2014 at 3:49AM

Dear all,

First of all I congratulate  Dr Jillian Ney all for creating this website/ platform and giving all of us an opportunity to interact.

I got a thought on doing Ph.D in social media, and i googled the possibilities, suddenly i found this page and was really excited to go through this. The above conversations have been wonderful. The idea of forming a group for futher effective and fruitful interactions is a brilliant idea which needs to be activated at the earliest.

About Me, I am working as Assistant Professor in Manipal Institute of Technology, Print and Media Engg. Dept. since 5 years. I have successfully completed M.Tech in Print and Media Technology and thinking of persuing my Ph.D in Social Media.

My interest in study of Social Media is.

Evaluation of Digital / Online (E-commerece) process capabilities over the Social Media.

Mainly studying on how to generate revenue using the social medias like FB, You Tube or other SM platforms.

Wish me goodluck and feel free to share your comments or suggestions.


Devicharan R