Netnography is the branch of ethnography that analyses the free behaviour of individuals on the Internet that uses online marketing research techniques to provide useful insights. The word “netnography” comes from “Inter[net]” and “ethnography” and was a process and term coined by Robert Kozinets. As a method, “netnography” can be faster, simpler, and less expensive than ethnography, and more naturalistic and unobtrusive than focus groups or interviews (Kozinets, 2009, del Fresno, 2011, del Fresno 2014). Netnography is similar to an ethnography in five ways:
- It is naturalistic
- It is immersive
- It is descriptive
- It is multi-method
- It is adaptable
It provides information on the symbolism, meaning, and consumption patterns of online consumer groups (Kozinets, 2010) or online communities consumption unrelated but online sociability based on the exchange of information (del Fresno, 2011). Netnography is focused on cultural, symbolic information insights.
The basis for netnography
Consumers turn to computer-mediated communication for information on which to base lifestyle, product and brand choices. Besides perusing advertising and corporate websites, consumers are using virtual communities and other online social sharing formats to share ideas and contact fellow consumers who are seen as more objective information sources. The freely expressed opinion of individuals on the social web provides researchers with data coming from thousands of individuals behaving freely. It also allows researchers to keep record of these interactions, quantify changes over time, and perform insightful analysis using a variety of tools and methods.
The study of communication patterns and content between/within these social groups on the Internet is one method of netnographic analysis. These social groups are popularly referred to as “virtual communities” (Rheingold 1993). However, as stated by Jones (1995), the term "virtual" might misleadingly imply that these communities are less “real” than physical communities. Yet as Kozinets (1998, p. 366) pointed out, “these social groups have a ‘real’ existence for their participants, and thus have consequential effects on many aspects of behaviour, including consumer behavior” (see also Muniz and O’Guinn 2001).
Individuals participating in these "virtual communities" often share in-depth insight on themselves, their lifestyles, and the reasons behind the choices they make as consumers (brands, products etc.) The knowledge exchanged within these public communities is often commercially valuable, as it can help companies develop better marketing strategies, help identify industry trends or candidates for employment, or help product engineers improve their products. Not surprisingly, since these communities often include attempts to inform and influence fellow consumers about products and brands (Handaa 1999, Muniz and O’Guinn 2001), and since one major factor influencing positive brand equity for one brand over another is consumer advocacy (Almquist and Roberts, 2000), commercial firms are often very interested in determining the level and nature of conversation around their brands and products, and looking for methods to influence those conversations.
- Like ethnography, netnography is natural, immersive, descriptive, multi-method, and adaptable.
- Unique among social media methods, netnography seeks to generate cultural insights from contextualized data.
- Netnography follows six overlapping steps: research planning, entrée, data collection, interpretation, ensuring ethical standards, and research representation.
- Computationally assisted netnography adds the careful use of software tools to the protocols of the netnographic process in order to assist with data collection and analysis.
Netnography offers a range of new insights for front end innovation, providing:
- Holistic marketplace descriptions
- Communicative and cultural comprehension
- Embedded understanding of consumer choice
- Naturalistic views of brand meaning
- Discovery of consumer innovation
- Mappings of sociocultural online space
Sample netnographic analysis
Below are listed four different types of online community from a netnographic analysis by Kozinets (see Kozinets ref. below for more detail). Even though the technologies, and the use of these technologies within culture, is evolving over time, the insights below have been included here in order to show an example of what a market-oriented “netnography” looked like:
- bulletin boards, which function as electronic bulletin boards (also called newsgroups, usegroups, or usenet groups). These are often organized around particular products, services or lifestyles, each of which may have important uses and implications for marketing researchers interested in particular consumer topics (e.g., McDonalds, Sony PlayStation, beer, travel to Europe, skiing). Many consumer-oriented newsgroups have over 100,000 readers, and some have over one million (Reid 1995).
- Independent web pages as well as web-rings composed of thematically-linked World Wide Web pages. Web-pages such as epinions ([www.epinions.com]) provide online community resources for consumer-to-consumer exchanges. Yahoo!’s consumer advocacy listings also provide useful listing of independent consumer web-pages. Yahoo! also has an excellent directory of web-rings ([www.dir.webring.yahoo.com]).
- lists (also called listservs, after thesoftware program), which are e-mail mailing lists united by common themes (e.g., art, diet, music, professions, toys, educational services, hobbies). Some good search engines of lists are [www.egroups.com] and [www.liszt.com].
- multi-user dungeons and chat rooms tend to be considerably less market-oriented in their focus, containing information that is often fantasy-oriented, social, sexual and relational in nature. General search engines (e.g., Yahoo! or excite) provide good directories of these communities. Dungeons and chat rooms may still be of interest to marketing researchers (see, e.g., White 1999) because of their ability to provide insight into particular themes (e.g., certain industry, demographic or lifestyle segments). However, many marketing researchers will find the generally more focused and more information-laden content provided by the members of boards, rings and lists to be more useful to their investigation than the more social information present in dungeons and chat rooms.
Netnography follows six overlapping steps:
- Research Planning
- Data Collection
- Ensuring ethical standards
- Research representation
- Del Fresno, Miguel; López-Pelaez, Antonio (2014) Social work and Netnography: The case of Spain and generic drugs. Qualitative Social Work, vol. 13(1), pp. 85-107 DOI: 10.1177/1473325013507736
- Del Fresno, Miguel (2011) Netnografía. Investigación, análisis e intervención social. Editorial UOC, 1ª edición, Barcelona, España ISBN 978-8497883856
- Almquist, Eric and Kenneth J. Roberts (2000), “A ‘Mindshare’ Manifesto,” Mercer Management Journal, 12, pp. 9-20
- Jones, Stephen G. (1995), “Understanding Community in the Information Age,” in Cybersociety: Computer-mediated Communication and Community, ed. Stephen G. Jones, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 10-35
- Kozinets, R (1997): Want to Believe: A Nethnography of the'X-Philes' Subculture of Consumption RV Kozinets - Advances in Consumer Research.
- Kozinets, Robert V. (1998), “On Netnography: Initial Reflections on Consumer Research Investigations of Cyberculture,” in Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 25, ed., Joseph Alba and Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, pp. 366-371
- Kozinets, Robert V. (2010), “Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon”; White Paper.
- Muniz, Albert, Jr. and Thomas C. O’Guinn (2001), “Brand Community,” Journal of Consumer Research
- Rheingold, Howard (1993), The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Roy Langer, Suzanne C. Beckman, (2005) Sensitive research topics: netnography revisited Vol. 8 Issue 2 pp. 189-203
- Armstrong, A. and Hagel, J. (1996). The real value of on-line communities. Harvard Business Review May–Jun, pp. 134–141
- Ginga, Daiuchuu (2013), "In the Footsteps of Kozinets: Towards a New Netnographic Taxonimization,", Journal of Internet Appreciation, pp. 418-419.
- A Brief Introduction to Netnography (slides)