Backgrounds, Methods, and Concepts of Research with Dr. Cynthia King

We had the opportunity to speak with Professor Cynthia King to discuss research methods and her experiences with conducting research. Dr. King is a professor at Cal State Fullerton who wrote a book titled Entertainment & Society: Influences, Impacts, and Innovations. Before earning her Ph.D. in Mass Communications from the University of Alabama, she went to Florida State University to get a Master’s Degree in Political Science. Throughout our hour-long discussion, we gained some insight into what the best methods would be for us to conduct our own research. Our research we will soon be conducting will be on social media advertisements and which mediums prove to be the most effective. Dr. King was able to give us insight based on her seasoned background with entertainment and media psychology. With the rise of popularity in social media and constantly evolving algorithms, it is imperative to apply research to understand the changes patterns. Dr. King was able to give us an understanding of her background, methods and concepts to give us a greater insight for our project.

“King, Cynthia M.” Cynthia M. King – College of Communications | CSUF, 

What research have you done and which has been your favorite topic to research? 

Dr. King expressed to us that she has done lots of different forms of research, and that the most important notion she believes is to find the “right tool for the right situation”, and let new ideas from students or research questions guide her to find the proper tools to optimize the results of her research topics. She explained some of the types she has worked with previously, being quantitative effects research and public relations, with an emphasis on effects. The majority of her topics are surrounding media psychology and questions like, “How do certain kinds of messages impact us?” Although she couldn’t exactly point to just one favorite topic or form of research, she did mention how she really enjoys working on projects that have to do with humor analysis and entertainment. Dr. King also went on to say how a lot of her previous work has much to do with applied research, campaigns and doing research with clients. As far as giving us input on our project and focusing on certain topics, she emphasized the importance of us, as researchers, to have a clear and concise understanding of methods and concepts. As methods will always remain the same, no matter the subject proposal, it’s crucial to have a developed understanding of the fundamentals in order to apply these to various kinds of research experiments. 

What are the most common problems or issues you run into while conducting research?

When we asked Dr. King “what are the most common problems and issues she runs into while conducting research” she expressed that there are many problems and limitations one can be faced with. Dr. King herself focuses on finding causal relationships in media effects and understanding those impacts. As a result, she typically conducts experimental studies since that is the only method where one can prove causality, meaning, seeing the effects that the independent and dependent variables have on one another. 

From there she expressed the major problems she is most commonly faced with when conducting research. First, she stated that it is typically difficult to find a realistic study environment. Another struggle she finds herself in pretty often is getting participants for her experiments. This does not come as a surprise since it is highlighted in our coursework and book that getting people to volunteer for studies is often a challenge. Lastly, the biggest problem Dr. King finds when she is conducting studies is designing the right type of measurements for her experiment. Dr. King also stated that she is often in a bind trying to ensure construct validity. Since measurements and construct validity is crucial to a study, making sure your measurements are well defined has a big impact on a study’s construct validity. 

If we were going to conduct research on Social Media Advertising, which method would you advise us to use? 

Our group wanted to ask Dr. King which research method she would advise us to use when conducting research on Social Media Advertising. Dr. King was quick to inform us that the research question is the most important element when deciding which research method one should use. She gave us a couple of examples, if we wanted to look at Social Media Ads from a Cultural Perspective and their impact we should conduct a Content Analysis. Another example she presented was that if we wanted to see study an ad’s effectiveness or “Is Social Advertising Effective” she stated that the best way would be conducting an experiment. However, Dr. King also noted that this could be done through a Survey to compare people’s shopping habits relating to Ads they see on Social Media.” A survey could also help us understand what types of people are more likely to pay attention to Social Media Advertising. 

Since our group wanted more insight, we presented our original research question to Dr. King which was, “To what extent has capitalism ruined our Social Media experience?” Although our group thought we could tackle a research question that big, Dr. King brought up a good point by stating “Would Social Media exist without Capitalism?” Then we concluded that the Social Media platforms that do exist today wouldn’t exist without capitalism. 

As a result, Dr. King suggested a few ways we could revise our question. One revision she proposed was studying how Social Media has become more commercialized over time. If we were to conduct our study on this topic she suggested that we could conduct a Historical Content Analysis. Dr. King suggested studying certain platforms and their history to see how they have changed over time. All in all, this discussion helped our group immensely and we have changed our research question since to be less broad and more aligned with our capabilities.

If we were to conduct a historical analysis on Social Media Advertising, what limitations could you predict? 

Dr King explained that historical analysis is qualitative, so it could be easy to “cherry-pick specific examples” to support our hypothesis. However, she said that part of qualitative research is subjective and that we should find examples to support our hypothesis, as long as the results have consistency. Dr. King mentioned that there is less structure in qualitative research, while in quantitative research, everything is more clear-cut. She then spoke about the money involved in social media, that although something starts out as free, advertisements are what keep the platforms going. Dr. King mentioned different ways we could historically analyze this topic, including looking at the trends of how men and women post. She encouraged us to limit our topic so that we do not become overwhelmed by a “snowball”, or an idea that starts small but gets bigger and bigger; she mentioned content analysis as a possible way to prevent limitations in our study while making sure we have enough information to work with.

Would it be possible to do an experiment within a survey to quickly and effectively gather data?

Dr. King said that an experiment would “absolutely” work in a survey, and agreed with the idea that we could show people different types of ads in the survey to see which ones they liked best. She suggested we could ask them which ad they thought was more credible, believable, compelling, and persuasive, but avoid asking them only about whether they would buy the product in the advertisement. Dr. King recommended that we narrow our focus to a specific type of ad, saying that we would want pretty much every ad to be the same except for the variable we are using for our study. She stressed the importance of keeping the product the same, which helped us decide that we want to focus on clothing/fashion ads. Dr. King explained at the end that we need to look at the results of our research and compare them with all the possible differences in the ads so that we understand how people were otherwise influenced. “It’s not going to be perfect; these are the challenges of operationalization,” she encouraged.

Sayre, Shay, and Cynthia King. Entertainment and Society Influences, Impacts, and Innovations. Routledge, 2010. 

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