The Ultimate Guide to Social Media Scraping

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Social media is widely used by everyone, ranging from individuals to huge corporations. They post and submit lots of data and content on a daily basis. Some of it is of great use, whether to academic researchers or businesses.

 

Collecting all of that data manually, however, would take an enormous amount of labor and resources. Social media scraping aims to change that by using bots that download and store the data in an automated manner.

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What is social media scraping?

Social media scraping is an offshoot of a data collection method called web scraping. During web scraping, a bot or any other piece of automated software goes through a library of URLs and downloads the content stored within.

 

All content is collected in a HTML format, which isn’t that conducive to data analysis. So, web scraping is supported with parsers that can turn that mess of data into a readable and understandable format such as JSON or CSV.

 

Social media scraping is, in large part, no different than web scraping. The only real difference with the former, at least on the surface, is that social media platforms are being scraped. Everything else is identical to web scraping – a bot goes through a select number of pages, downloads the content, which is then parsed and exported into a readable format.

 

There are underlying differences that make social media scraping a bit harder and more complicated than regular web scraping. Mostly, these have to do with how carefully the data in social media platforms is protected and how advanced their bot protection measures are.

Is it legal to scrape social media platforms?

While there is no direct legislation affecting social media scraping, there are various data collection and management laws that apply to all such endeavors. Additionally, most social media platforms display data only if you register, which means agreeing to Terms and Conditions.

 

As you might guess, most Terms and Conditions will include either an agreement that the user will not scrape data or that the data stored within the social media platform rightfully belongs to it. In either case (and in any similar circumstance), registering and scraping the platform would be breaking the law.

 

There have been cases where social media websites have sued those who used data extraction methods. An important caveat, however, is that if the data is not hidden behind a login, there is a case to be made that you haven’t agreed to the Terms and Conditions. As such, it’s usually considered legal to scrape publicly available data from social media platforms.

 

You still have to be careful, though. As mentioned above, there are plenty of data regulation laws (e.g., GDPR, CPPA, etc.) that still affect you even if the website itself can’t sue you. For example, personal data, which is often defined as anything that can potentially identify a person, is protected under several laws. You would have to get explicit consent from each person, which is nearly impossible when doing social media scraping as you’d be going through millions of profiles.

 

As such, limiting yourself to business data or anything that isn’t personal and that is not hidden behind a login. It may seem limiting, but social media scraping can produce so much data that you can achieve a lot even within such boundaries.

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What are the benefits of scraping social media?

As mentioned above, there’s a ton of data you can gather with social media scraping. Ads, business data, prices of some products, etc., all are available. Such data can then be turned into various implementations that benefit businesses.

Sentiment analysis

Social media websites are ones where people are extremely willing to share their opinions on various topics. Scraping comments and feeding them to machine learning algorithms can uncover the sentiment hidden within a sentence or paragraph.

 

In bulk, these can be turned into sentiment analysis surrounding various brands, businesses, and products. Monitoring changing sentiments can give indicators into whether a specific business strategy is turning out as expected.

Marketing research

Social media channels are rife with ads and associated content. As an additional bonus, there are numerous conversations going about marketing both from the consumer and professional side.

 

Combining these data sources into one can provide insightful lessons into market trends and marketing practices that work (or don’t). Collecting such volumes of data without social media scraping tools, however, would be impossible, so it’s the perfect opportunity to apply them.

 

Finally, with enough historical data and analysis entire marketing strategies can be developed. It should be noted, however, that the data reflects each particular platform only, so mixing social media channels isn’t always recommended.

Finding engaging content

Audience engagement has been the defining metric for most social media platforms. As long as you can keep the user engagement high, the algorithms will likely promote your page.

 

Discovering such content, however, is quite difficult, but with social media scraping tools enormous volumes of data can be collected. Associated metrics (e.g., likes, comments, views) can be scraped in order to uncover what types of content produces the most engagement, which can then be used to generate your own.

What are the challenges of scraping social media?

Legal landscape

As mentioned above, scraping social media sites is quite tricky. You have to find ones that display data without necessitating a login and even then data collection has to be careful.

 

While scraping publicly available data is usually okay, the industry changes often, so even this can change rather quickly. You should always consult with a professional to see whether you can use the scraping tools in the manner you want.

Extensive anti-bot protections

Social media websites have taken extreme measures to protect themselves from bots. They became an issue long before scraping social media came onto the scene. Malicious actors used these platforms to spread disinformation through automated means, so various methods to catch bots have been developed.

 

In turn, that has equally affected social media scraping because catching bots is often no different, regardless of the task they are intended to do. So, bans are plentiful and frequent.

 

Bypassing such protections requires the usage of proxies. These are third-party devices that forward connection requests on your behalf without revealing the original user (i.e. you). Since these devices have their own IP addresses, you can use them to circumvent any IP ban. 

 

Additionally, providers usually sell proxies in pools with thousands or even millions of IP addresses. Getting a single one banned isn’t that much of an issue as you can instantly switch to a new one.

What are the best scraping tools?

Octoparse

Octoparse is a click-and-collect web scraping tool that can extract data from social media sites. It’s extremely easy to use and fairly efficient. Paid versions often include cloud-based scraping, meaning you don’t have to worry about the performance of your device.

 

Additionally, data can be exported into various formats, which will make it much easier to analyze it. As a result, Octoparse is a great starting point for those who want to scrape social media.

Parsehub

Parsehub is another click-and-collect scraper that functions nearly identically to Octoparse. It’s a little more simplistic, but still easy to use and efficient. Again, there’s cloud-based scraping, various export formats, and even JavaScript scraping.

 

There’s various integrations into storage (e.g. Dropbox) and other pieces of software, making it easy to make Parsehub a part of daily operations. It’s another great starter web scraping tool that can enhance business growth.

ScraperAPI

ScraperAPI is a social media data extraction tool that’s intended for more tech-savvy individuals. Instead of being click-and-scrape, it’s an API that takes specific requests and returns the data.

 

There are many benefits to it such as no performance hits while scraping and nearly instant data delivery. It is, however, a bit pricey and harder to set up than the other two entries in the list. Luckily, they have extensive documentation and numerous tutorials to ease newcomers in.

 

So, ScraperAPI is a great tool for those who only need the data and want it delivered as soon as possible. You do have to have some development experience to make it work, though.

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