Netnography – The Missing Ingredient in your Marketing Research Efforts

What is ‘Netnography’?

‘Netnography’ is a term coined by Robert V. Kozinets (BBA, MBA, Ph.D.), an expert on social media, marketing research, innovation, and marketing strategy. The word “netnography” itself comes from “Internet” and “ethnography”. In essence, it is a set of techniques that adapt anthropological research to the world of the Internet. In netnography, online interactions are treated as a cultural reflection that provides deep human understanding. Are you scratching your head yet? Let me break it down for you:

I think that we can all agree that the Internet and social media have revolutionized the world of marketing. Social media networks are characterized by features such as connectivity, consumer empowerment, community and inclusiveness. In other words, consumers are no longer passive beings simply absorbing company-generated information; social media allows for consumer-generated content.

Now this is where netnography comes in. The online environment offers marketers unlimited access to consumer-to-consumer communication from a naturally-occurring context, that is relevant and detailed, unelicited, obtained in an unobtrusive way, and acquired in a timely, and effective manner.

Why is Netnography useful?

Unlike traditional market research methods such as focus groups, surveys, questionnaires, and data models, netnography is unelicited and naturalistic, offers cultural insights, and maintains the human connection with context. Netnography can help you with marketing decision-making, branding, and innovation. A systematic, comprehensive, netnographic study can expose critical information about consumer behaviours, opinions, tastes, impressions, and interactions.

The following are five straightforward and manageable (overlapping) steps that will help you get started:

Step One: Research Planning

Before you officially embark on your netnography quest, you must first decide on your objectives. You will need to define the research questions, topics and/or trends that you want to investigate. Ask yourself what do I need to learn – and more importantly, why? How will I use that information? For example, some common goals include evaluating the positioning of your brand, coming up with ideas for new product innovations, or marketing concepts and etc. Step one is arguably the most important step in the netnography process because answering these essential questions and solidifying your goals will help you focus your efforts, and in turn save you a considerable amount of time later on in the process.

Step Two: Community Identification and Selection

In this step you will decide what communities to focus your research on. For instance, you should examine your brand’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, and Twitter account. Next you may want to review blogs and forums (both professional and amateur) that mention your brand, your competition, and your industry. Amazon is a great resource for finding reviews. I also highly recommend setting up Google Alerts notifications for your brand and any competitors you want to conduct netnography on. This will only take a minute, and will ensure that you are notified of any new developments or reviews.

Step Three: Community Participant-Observation and Data Collection

Now comes the fun part – doing the actual research. Examine the individuals who are active on your social media pages to better understand the personalities of your existing consumers. Observe volume through the number of fans, likes and comments on your Facebook page, the number of followers on your Twitter accounts and the number of views your YouTube videos in order see how popular your brand is. Critically study all comments, feedback, and reviews that you come across on the Internet; this will help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of your brand from the consumers’ point of view.

Step Four: Data Analysis and Iterative Interpretation of Findings

Organization is key throughout the entire netnography process. I recommend using Excel to organize your findings by interaction type (e.g., Facebook comment, Like, Tweet, Retweet, blog post, forum post, review, etc…) and color code it by sentiment (e.g., red for negative sentiment, blue for positive, and green for indifferent). Furthermore, you could integrate a number scale to classify each your findings (e.g, 1-9, with one being worst and 9 being best). Just to clarify, I am not talking about ranking here – I am suggesting that you assign a number to each interaction you find from 1-9 (can be more than one of each!)

Step Five: Report Research Findings and Theoretical Implications, OR Strategy (STP) & Tactical Implications

Now that you have gathered and organized the information, it is time to critically examine your findings. What trends can you see? Where does the information point you? Perhaps your research will tell you that your website needs a re-design, that your advertising is not being perceived as desired, or that you may need to change your positioning. It could also give you ideas about innovation for your products or services.

I highly recommend getting the input of other people in your company at this stage. They will be able to look at your netnographic study with a fresh perspective and point out anything you may have overlooked.

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Netnography is a fascinating concept, and this article is meant to serve as an introduction and a quick guide, based on my own experience with the process. If you are intrigued by this topic (which I’m sure you must be, if you’re still reading!), I suggest that you download the White Paper Netnography: The Marketer's Secret Weapon – How Social Media Understanding Drives Innovation, written by the father of netnography himself, Robert V. Kozinets.

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Gary

CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
4 replies
  1. Denise Fay
    Denise Fay says:

    Hi Marsha,

    This is an article that appeals to my theoretical self. I’m not a market researcher by any means but I do know and teach) about the principles of research.

    I love the way you’ve (or is it Robert?)taken the traditional steps of the market research process and applied to it the Internet.

    My main concern with step three and four is that of bias. The person analysing the data or observing the interaction in a social media group will have to ‘control’ their bias while similarly, one network could be dominated by extremely vocal people while the less vocal people’s response may not be included.

    But I’m sure that this is included within the research process of netnography.

    It’s great to see some of the marketing academic theory being revised in accordance with the new marketing tactics that are alive and well in today’s marketplace.

    Thanks for your wonderful article and sharing it on bizsugar.com

    Take care,
    Denise

  2. Marsha Druker
    Marsha Druker says:

    Hi Denise,

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the article and found it useful.

    I agree with you that there is a potential for bias in steps three and four. Thus, it is very important for the researcher to analyze the information critically, and not look at it through ‘rose colored glasses’

    Thanks for sharing!

    Have a fantastic week,

    Marsha

  3. Niall Devitt
    Niall Devitt says:

    Hi Marsha, this is a great article! I’m inclined to agree with Denise cautionary point above but so long as you are aware, this is something that I’m sure can be catered for at the planning stage. Thanks for sharing over at Bizsugar.com

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