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Digital Ethnography on Social Media for Musicians

A field guide based on interviews, diary studies, and digital observation.

Digital Ethnography on Social Media for Musicians

For some of us, social media is merely a distraction or a place to stay in touch with friends. For today’s musicians and many other independent workers, it’s a necessity to stay relevant and find work.

Classmate Kyle Kisicki and I conducted a qualitative ethnographic research study, including a diary study, in-depth interviews, and digital observation, for INFO 649: Practical Ethnography for UX at Pratt Institute to examine how musicians use social media to promote their creative work and what challenges they face.

We summarized the study results in both a field guide booklet and presentation slides.

Download PDF Field Guide Download PDF Presentation

Team / client

Pratt Institute - INFO-649
Practical Ethnography for UX

My role

  • Ethnographic research
  • Generative interviews
  • Diary study design and analysis
  • Booklet design
  • Presentation design


March - May 2022
6 weeks

Tools Used

  • Figma
  • Miro
  • Google Forms
  • Filmora

Digital EthnographyUX ResearchDiary Study

Preliminary Research

For an earlier assignment for the same class, I completed an individual project focused on how musicians have begun to feel obligated to post selfies to promote their work — the trend known as "Face for the Algorithm." For this project, I focused mostly on observation of online behavior, and conducted some informal conversations with musicians on Instagram and Twitter to get a pulse for their feelings about it. The deliverable for that project was a brief explainer video, formatted for social media.

Research Questions

How are musicians using social media to promote their creative work? What challenges do they face?

For the class's final project, we were asked to work with a classmate to create a field guide related to online behavior. Initially, we decided to focus on how queer creative workers use social media, and its impact on their careers and mental health. Early in the project, we changed our scope to focus on musicians (and broadened our scope to include all musicians, not just queer musicians).

We hoped to examine some of the labor required of creative workers to promote their work in the current social media landscape, the shortcomings and difficulties they encounter, and the workarounds they implement to make the most of these tools. We hoped to get a sense of what tools creative workers are using, how they use these tools, and the obstacles they encounter.


We completed two rounds of qualitative research: an initial diary study and follow-up interviews. We created an initial participant screener form in Google Forms to recruit participants and shared it on our own social media. Since we both shared community with musicians and found that most of our screener respondents were musicians, we decided to focus on musicians for our study. Because we were unable to compensate participants, we needed to focus on recruiting people who would be willing to help us with research for free.

Diary Study

Diary studies are a great research method for getting a sense of how people are feeling on a daily basis, or each time they complete a particular task, by asking them to complete diary entries on a regular basis.

We chose to use a structured format for each diary entry, which we built in Google Forms. We asked 7 participants to submit three entries each, each focused on a single social media post to one of their own accounts. Because of our time constraints (participants had about one week to complete their entries), we allowed participants to choose any three social media posts of their own, including past posts as well as posts made over the course of the study.

The first half of the diary study Google form.
The second half of the diary study Google form.

We summarized each participant's diary entries in a slide deck so we could review them easily and share the data with our classmates.

The first half of the diary study Google form.
The first half of the diary study Google form.
The first half of the diary study Google form.
The first half of the diary study Google form.

As part of our data analysis, we were tasked with creating an interactive workshop where our classmates would help us analyze the diary study data. We created an interactive Miro board, starting with an open-ended activity where participants would read through diary entries and create and organize sticky notes. Then, we asked each workshop participant to share one broader theme they noticed, and one quote they found particularly interesting or surprising.

A Miro board of sticky notes analyzing the diary study data.


Building off our diary study, we conducted 3 interviews based on the following script. Ideally, we would have liked to recruit 5–10 participants, but we were limited by both time constraints and lack of ability to compensate participants, even moreso than with our diary study, since interviews take more time and are more complex to schedule.

Social media usage: overview
  • Which social media platforms are you active on?
  • When did you first start using social media?
  • How did you feel about social media then?
  • How do your general feelings about social media differ now from when you first started using it?
  • What kind of work do you use social media to promote?
How you use social media today
  • Can you tell me about the last time you logged into social media and what you did there?
  • Can you walk me through your currently active social media accounts?
  • Tell me a bit about how you manage your different accounts.
  • Is there anything you do to differentiate personal social media and social media you use to promote your work/business?
  • How much time would you say you spend managing your social media presence in a given week?
  • What do you see as the desired outcome of promoting your work on Instagram?
  • What do you want viewers to do?
Instagram: show & tell
For this section you’ll need your phone or laptop ready to walk me through some posts you’ve made. We’ll be focusing on Instagram.
  • Can you pull up a recent post you made on Instagram to promote your work and tell me a bit about what you were thinking about when you made that post?
  • Who was the intended audience for your post?
  • Were there any positive outcomes of this post you can tell me about?
  • How about negative outcomes?
  • Do you feel like this post achieved its goals?
  • Can you walk me through a social media post promoting your work that you felt was successful?
  • Why do you think this post did well?
  • Is there anything you learned from this post that you will apply in the future?
  • Can you walk me through a social media post you made promoting your work that you felt unsure or nervous about?
  • Why did you feel uncertain about this post?
  • What, if anything, would have made you feel better?
  • Is there anything you learned from this post that you will apply in the future?
Defining social media “success”
  • Can you think of an opportunity or connection you’ve made that social media helped facilitate?
  • Do you think that would have happened without social media?
  • Can you tell me about someone whose social media presence you like and why?
  • Can you tell me about someone whose social media presence you dislike and why?
  • If you were explaining to someone new to social media how to successfully promote their work, what are some tactics or tips you would share with them?
  • Are there any particular challenges you feel you face when using social media?
  • Do any of those tie into particular aspects of your identity, self-presentation, etc.?
  • If all of your social media were deleted tomorrow, what would you do?
  • How would this impact your work?
  • If you could change one thing about the social media landscape today, what would it be?
  • Is there anything else on your mind about this topic that we didn't cover?

Privacy Precautions

Across the diary studies and interviews, we took precautions to respect our participants’ privacy. We kept their personal information and handles private, offered to blur any faces that appeared in content shared, and asked for explicit permission to share their screenshots/posts (a checkbox in each diary submission asking if it’s okay to share a version of their screenshot without their username or face).

Presenting Our Results

We summarized our research in a field guide booklet (with musicians in mind as our audience) and a presentation (for our class and professor), both of which I designed in Figma. The "field guide" format for the class assignment was fairly open-ended, and we decided a zine-like format would make the most sense to potentially reach musicians.

Download PDF Field Guide Download PDF Presentation