Anatomy of an Academic Article, Round 4: Back from the Brink

Journal of Marketing Research

 

Wagner A. Kamakura, Editor
Henry B. Tippie College of Business The University ofIowa
338 John Pappajohn Business Bldg. S Iowa City, IA 52242-1000

March 2, 2001

Professor Robert Kozinets
Kellogg Graduate School of Management Northwestern University
Leverone Hall
Evanston IL 60208-2008

Dear Bob,

RE: MS# 1205-9-3 “The field behind the screen: Using the method of netnography to research market-oriented virtual communities.”

The above-referenced manuscript was read by the two remaining reviewers who evaluated its previous versions. As you recall, the third reviewer (#2) had signed-off earlier, by recommending unconditional acceptance. Reviewer #1 recommends that the manuscript be rejected, while Reviewer #3 recommends conditional acceptance.

As you can see, I have two conflicting expert opinions on a subject area I have little knowledge about. Reviewer #3 characterizes the present version as “not particularly brilliant”, but worth publishing. Reviewer #1 is as highly critical of this version as with the previous ones.

My reading of reviewer #1 ‘s comments is that you sell “netnography” as a methodological advance while this reviewer sees it as nothing more than an adaptation of ethnography to the new data-collection medium. Consequently, this reviewer is not convinced that “the paper adds sufficient value to the research stream.” My own view about your contribution is somewhat different from this reviewer. Since I am not trained in ethnography, nor knowledgeable about the literature in this area, I represent probably more than 95% of all JMR readers. Therefore, I am certainly not able to evaluate the contribution of this manuscript to the ethnography literature, but can clearly appreciate the value of your adaptation of it for marketing research in computer-mediated environments. The fact that you provide an empirical application in the actual market environment, and take care to discuss the implications of the method to the practice of marketing research makes it particularly valuable to an important segment of JMR readers, marketing consultants and marketing researchers, who represent more than half of our subscribers (and actually use what is published by JMR in their practice), without diminishing its value to academic researchers. However, I agree with this reviewer that you must be more upfront about what exactly your contribution is, in relation to standard ethnography.

Therefore, I am pleased to conditionally accept your manuscript, pending the following:

* As requested by Reviewer #3, explain in the text how you know the lead users, and that they are not marginal “hard-core” fanatics. In fact, the generalizability of the findings obtained with “netnography” is something that should be discussed both in the presentation of the method and in the empirical section of the paper. How do you avoid being misled by a minority of vocal extremists? How do you differentiate the typical consumer from “hard-core” pathological cases?

* Explain how you can identify “opinions leaders” in your analysis without a more formal network analysis.

* Make all the minor corrections requested by Reviewer #3.

* Improve the presentation of “netnography” on pages 3-15, emphasizing more strongly its distinctions from traditional ethnography. You should also define “netnography” more explicitly, as an adaptation of ethnography to computer-mediated communications. Throughout the text, you must refer to “netnography” within quotes, to indicate its status as an adaptation of ethonographic research to a new medium.

* You must also make sure to use double quotes when referring to your typology of newsgroups users (“tourists”, “posters”, “minglers”, etc.) to avoid confusing the reader.

* I also ask that you change the title of the manuscript. The current title gives the impression that “netnography” is a method for studying market-oriented virtual communities, when in fact, you are proposing the use of market-oriented virtual communities as a laboratory for qualitative marketing research.

I hope you will make the changes indicated above, which only requires a re-write of portions of your manuscript, clarifying some critical issues and making a more explicit statement about your contribution. I will not send the revision back to the reviewers, but ask that you submit a detailed account of how you have handled the comments from the two reviewers and myself.

Sincerely,

[Wagner]

Wagner A. Kamakura

MS# 1205-9-1

 

“The Field Behind the Screen ….. “

 

Reviewer # 1

The revision is more concise, and the authors are to be commended for sticking to the editor’s request for a 30-page paper. The focus is narrower, and much of the overclaiming has been deleted. The authors have deleted theoretical material that was problematical, and have reconstructed the manuscript as a methods paper, including an lllustrative method.

Still, the introduction of “netnography” seems to be but an add-on to ethnography — an “adaptation” (p. 5) — that does not break new ground methodologically. The summary of ethnographic procedures (pp. 3~5) and the application of these procedures to online research (pp.5-14) does not convince this reviewer that the paper adds sufficient value to the research stream. The summary points out that “no two ethnographies have ever been conducted in exactly the same manner” (p. 4), which suggests that online ethnography is merely a modification of a familiar method, not something that provides “an unprecedently new level of access to the heretofore unobservable behaviors of interacting consumers.”

Beginning on p. 5, the authors present specific guidelines for netnography based on the 6 ethnographic procedures listed on p.4. The “entree” section seems quite simplistic for the research audience at which JMR aims. It might well be a tutorial for market researchers (that is, practitioners), but does not take into account the expertise that JMR readers bring to their research.

The section on data collection and analysis is also wide of the mark for this audience, for it is again too obvious to need discussion. It is unlikely that a JMR reader does not understand where to find data or how to collect it. In fact, the elements cited on p. 7 are familiar ethnographic ones. Classification of message-posters may be “useful for marketing strategy formulation,” but this is relevant to practitioners rather than researchers. Further, the authors admit (p. 9), that the long suit of ethnography is not meticulous classification, which makes one wonder why the method is linked to but one system.

In the “trustworthy interpretation” section (pp.9-10), the authors state that “data, analysis, and finds are similar to conversation analysis” (uncited, which again leads one to ask, “what’s new?”

The “ethics” section reviews the controversy about public vs. private online discourse, again linking this to the “history of ethnography” (p. 12). The guidelines sound like standard fare ordinarily requested by research review boards and ordinarily complied with by ethnographers.

So far, by the time the authors reach “member checks,” also a familiar procedure in both ethnographic and phenomenal research, there is no indication that netnography is anything more than a modification of those methods in accordance with the change of medium from face-to-face spoken and recorded text to computer-mediated written text. This resembles the kind of information more often found in textbooks, whose audience is different from the research community.

To sum up at the midway point, the paper does not appear to have made a successful case for its value to JMR readers. This does not imply that it is valueless, for a more appropriate audience may be marketing or research practioners who need some “how-to” advice.

The introduction to the example (pp. 14-17) illustrates the netnography procedure in terms of the 6 ethnographic procedures treated in the first part of the paper. The organizational flow is clear and logical, but it no more breaks new ground than does the general material that precedes it.

The empirical portion (pp. 17-24) is shorter and crisper, and its generalizability seems equivalent to that of ethnographic observations.

It is in the implications section (pp. 24-26) reveal the mismatch between the paper’s content and the JMR audience. On p. 25, the authors point out that the implications “for wise coffee marketers are considerable.” The point is well-taken, but managerial implications are more appropriate for JM (but one example), which aims at an audience of practitioners as well as researchers. Likewise, practical implicactions [sic] for “professional marketing researchers” who work for “particular marketing research clients” (p. 25, bottom) and managers in charge of “positioning and branding strategies” (p. 26) seem better suited to a practitioner audience.

Thus, despite a heroic rewrite, the technique does not come off as innovative and newsworthy to the designated audience. Thus, the redone paper is a much better one, but might better be aimed at a less research-savvy audience.

The Field Behind the Screen: Using the Method of Netnography to Research …

 

MS# 1205-9-3 Reviewer #3

To Author:

The paper is much improved. I think it will provide a good impetus for conversation on both the substantive and methodological planes.

Remaining concerns:

1.) key undefined terms: virtual community. First, why is it virtual? Many sociologists as well as Muniz and O’Guinn have demonstrated that these are communities. For about 75 years now, most sociologists have not required physical proximity as a requisite of community. See Muniz and O’Guinn (current issue of JCR) for a discussion. “Lead users” … just exactly how do you know these are lead users and not just purely marginal and inconsequential fanatics? Is there a difference? What is it? How do you know?

2.) Related to # 1 : you claim (on page 15) that these groups contain “opinion leaders.”

How do you know that without the kind of network analysis that Wellman and other do? We simply do not know the social or market significance of these aggregations of consumers. I am not saying that they are unimportant. .. personally I think they are … but I think you go too far in your assertions sans analysis. Exacerbating this is the issue of social stratifications markers … , which have historically been important in network models of influence. Still, I am willing to trade that for the unobtrusive nature of the data … , which I still find as the feature that recommends it most.

Minor:

Page 1, line 1: “maing” I don’t know this word.

p. 1, line 5 :”In these Internet based” rather than “on”

P 1, Muniz and O’Guinn 2001 is out.

I like pages 2 through 3.

p. 3: why “virtual?” I know it’s a term of art, but sociologists really don’t approve of it. It’s misleading.

Page 12: Well it’s a matter of opinion/politics. but legally, and as far as I’m concerned ethically, if it’s posted on a public medium, it’s public.

Pps 15-16: you really don’t have any analysis to support claims or even mild assertions of influence here. You don’t have an “effects” kind of analysis. It would be nice if you did but you don’t.

One thought on “Anatomy of an Academic Article, Round 4: Back from the Brink

  1. earnould2

    Rob,
    This whole thing really has got to be useful to junior scholars. I hope that the QDA group and groups encountered at Turkey this year and Odense last year have seen this. I must say I am super surprised that Kamakura was supportive! I know Russ Winer has been supportive; I think he is aware of the pressure from industry for this kind of work as a former MSI president. Good work.