The information seeking behaviour of migrants on social media - evidence from Germany



By Tobias Stapf


In recent years, a multitude of surveys (see for example Emmer et al. 2016) have provided evidence that for the majority of recently arrived migrants and refugees in Germany and Europe, mobile devices, digital media and in particular social media platforms serve as important sources of information throughout their journeys. However, evidence on the types of topics on which migrants and refugees seek information across platforms remains fragmentary.


In order to provide new evidence on the information seeking behaviour of migrants, Minor has been applying the innovative “digital streetwork” approach for its most recent pilot and research projects “Neu in Berlin Plus”, “Migrationsberatung 4.0”, FEM.OS and “Reach out and organize vs. Corona”.


In the scope of these projects, multilingual teams answer around 1,000 questions from migrants and refugees throughout Germany every month, offering information and counselling exactly where the majority of them are looking for it: on social media. Minor analyses data collected in this context to identify current trends in the information seeking behaviour of migrants in Germany.


Social contacts and digital networks as the most trusted source of information amongst migrants

In a recent survey (Minor 2019) amongst migrants from EU and third countries across Germany, respondents identified as particularly helpful services that were based either on intensive social contacts (such as "language school" and "friends and relatives") or on digital networks (such as "online job exchanges" and "social media services"). Even websites aimed spe-cifically at newly arrived migrants, such as "Make it in Germany" or non-digital counselling centres fo-cussed on newly arrived migrants and refugees, such as the migration counselling centres, were rated as less helpful overall.


Perceptions of the usefulness of social media for specific types of information varies across platforms. For example, for information related to job opportunities, Figure 1 presents the responses to the ques-tion "How do you rate the usefulness of different social media platforms for your job search?" Facebook is by far the most positively rated platform for job searching, even ahead of specialized career platforms such as LinkedIn.


This analysis also reveals that women rated all social media platforms much more pos-itively than men. Although this trend differs significantly according to the country of origin or language, on average, migrant women seem to use social media more intensively and rate the impact of social media on their life more positively than men.

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‌Figure 1: Rating of the usefulness of different social media platforms for finding employment offers, by gender, average ratings from 1 to 2 (red, not at all helpful to not helpful) and 2.1 to 4 (green, helpful to very helpful). Own survey data and visualisation © Minor.


Information seeking behaviour varies amongst different language communities

We also wanted to find out to what extent questions on “classic” advice and counselling topics such as social law, residence and citizenship law, as well as employment law, are discussed on migrants’ social media forums. Figure 2 shows the proportion of posts recorded by topic and the differences in the topic distribution between Arabic, English, French and Polish language networks.


In the Arabic-speaking net-works, discussions focus mainly on social law issues, as well as on education and residence and citizen-ship law. In French and English language networks, on the other hand, most questions are about tenan-cy law, while Polish speaking users mainly seem to discuss labour law issues.

Analyses of the topics being discussed in migrants’ social media networks provide unique opportunities for developing targeted information and support services. Minor has been employing this approach successfully during the Corona crisis, using data analyses to gain insights into the current information needs and then design information and advice offers to meet those needs.



Overall, our analyses show that the information seeking behaviour of migrants and refugees on social media is highly complex and just as diverse as the different typologies of migrants and refugees them-selves. Each linguistic network has its own content focus, reflecting different migration motives and experiences, but also the stage of arrival in which its members find themselves and which changes per-petually. 

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 Figure 2: Relative frequency of posts on advice-related topics in social media forums by English-, Arabic-, French- and Polish-speaking migrants, data collected between October 2016 to December 2018. Data by Facebook, visualisation by © Minor.‌

By offering insights into the topics and issues that are important to their members at a particular point in time, analyses of the discussions within these networks provide unique opportunities for developing targeted information and support services for and with these target groups.


Tobias Stapf is a geographer, researching the self-organising processes of migrant communities in cities. He currently leads the “digital streetwork” projects “Neu in Berlin Plus” and “Reach Out and Organise vs. Corona” at the research institute Minor. Based on the research findings from these projects he, works with local and national public and civil society organisations to support the development of “digital streetwork” and engagement strategies for the digital networks of migrants and refugees.





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