Author Archives: Robert Kozinets

About Robert Kozinets

Robert V. Kozinets (MBA, Ph.D.) is a globally-recognized expert on social media, marketing research, and brand strategy. In 1995, he developed netnography, the premiere online qualitatative social research technique. His research looks at the interface of technology, culture, consumption and media. He has a busy market research, consulting, and speaking practice, and has been delighted to work with some of the world's top companies including L'Oreal, Sony, Campbell Soup, American Express, Nissan, HSBC, TD Bank, eBay, and Merck. An anthropologist by training, he is Professor of Marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, where he also serves as Chair of the Marketing Department. His research has been published in over 70 chapters, proceedings, and articles in some of the world’s top marketing journals, and he currently serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Marketing, the field's top journal. His co-edited volume, Consumer Tribes, was published in 2007, and his 2010 book, Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online, is a Sage Research Methods best-seller. His new book, Qualitative Consumer and Marketing Research, co-authored with Schulich colleagues Russ Belk and Eileen Fischer is due from Sage in late 2012.

Netnography for Ad Campaign Effectiveness Assessment

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Word cloud results from sentiment analysis of Dr. Pepper’s new ad campaign

The author of the review article is correct in noting some big deficiencies in the natural language understanding of current search categorizations:  “Of course, analyzing sentiment is tricky and not an exact science. In the above example, words such as “die” and “crap” might be placed into the negative category, while the overall tone of the tweet is more joking/positive.” There are many other deficiencies, a number of which the managers from a range of marketing companies raised in our discussion at MSI.

Richard Matheson, RIP

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

One of the greats of the science fiction world passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson’s work is remarkable because he was one of the first writers to truly master the emerging mass media of science fiction and horror, and combined science fiction-horror. He wrote 16 episode of The Twilight Zone, including some of the most inventive and frightening episodes. Personally, I loved the silent terror of The Invaders most, but the shocking Terror at 20,000 Fathoms is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, Twilight Zone episode.

I also find his episode of Star Trek, The Enemy Within, to be one of the very best. In that episode, a technology accident rips Captain Kirk into two separate beings, one strong and evil, one weak and good. It is a morality play of the very highest order, as are almost all of Matheson’s works.

He entertained and inspired many. Fans of horror and science fiction are mourning the news today. The man will be missed. His work, and his legend, live on.

 

 

 

Developing Netnography

netnography social insights from social media

Today, I completed an encyclopedia entry on Netnography for the new revised International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication, edited by Wolfgang Donsbach and published by Blackwell-Wiley. My involvement was the result of a kind invitation by my colleague Shenja van der Graaf, who I know through my affiliation with the MIT Comparative Media Studies group. That encyclopedia will likely be published in about a year.

Writing this encyclopedia entry got me thinking further about streamlining and developing netnography as an approach. In fact, looking back on many of the things I have written about netnography, I feel that they need a lot of updating. When I read The Field Behind The Screen, it is glaringly obvious that the world today is a completely different place that it was when I researcher and wrote that paper (in 1999-2000) in terms of social media and its pervasiveness, impact, and the tools available to understand it. The basic principles may hold, but so much has changed.

To give you a flavor for some of the changes, let me share a little of my thinking on the matter. If this is interesting or useful, let me know with your comments and I am happy to share more. In fact, it would be outstanding if we could use to blog to test and develop new ideas, which I hope to develop into another book on netnography, one that would continue to build on the principles of the first book.

First, my thinking to date has failed to really engage with the novel and altered ontological, epistemological, and axiological positions that social media and the Internet raise for ethnography. A much closer reading of the anthropologies of technology and the Internet has led me to want to be much more specific in this foundations.I now see this set of philosophical positions leading to particular guidelines for data analysis, interpretation, and representation in order to address the differentiating characteristics of computer-mediated communications, social media and online culture.

netnography word cloudFrom the practical beginnings of netnography, I have always emphasized how netnography adapts a range of extant ethnographic practices—such as making cultural entrée, keeping fieldnotes, interviewing participants, using hermeneutic interpretation, and ensuring consent and a fair cultural representation—to new internet-mediated contingencies. These play out in repeated, fairly standard listings that recur again and again in my writing about netnography: entrée, data collection, data analysis, ethics.

However, these topics are not really what makes netnography unique. After teaching the method for over a decade, it is very clear to me that where there is confusion about netnography, and where the guidelines need to distinguish particular research practices and offer specific guidelines are in several areas.

  1.  How to formulate appropriate questions for a netnographic investigation, or how to know which questions can be studied netnographically?
  2. How to locate data from communities and topics online?
  3. How to know which communities or topics to focus on?
  4. How to handle huge amounts of digital data?
  5. How to narrow data appropriately?
  6. How much software to rely on?
  7. How to navigate online research ethics and procedures?
  8. How to handle researcher immersion?
  9. What is participation in netnography?

As I continue to develop netnography, my writing will rigorously detail these matters and address them with specific procedures. It is crucial to continue developing the method and attuning it to the needs of researchers.

Is Star Trek Better Than Star Wars? Is J. J. Abrams The Saviour?

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

In this month’s GQ magazine (May 2013 issue, p. 68 in my print copy) John Ritter has an article about J. J. Abrams, the Lost creator-director whose speciality has becoming reviving old franchises like Mission Impossible and Star Trek. About Star Trek, he opines–with an opiate reference–in relation to J.J. taking on the challenges of building the new Star Wars Disney franchise:

  • “The idea that the same man can mainline both Gene Roddenberry and the Force is mildly alarming. Think of what opposite Star Trek and Star Wars are. We’ve been defined since childhood by which we prefer: rationality vs. mysticism, robust and morally complex characters vs. good-and-evil archetypes. A guy who can reunite the two halves of the Great Sci-Fi Schism shouldn’t be making movies, folks–he should be our envoy to the Middle East.”

This is an incredibly rich paragraph. A veritable treasure trove.

Let me first offer my opinion on whether Star Trek and Star Wars are actually opposites or, more accurately, oppositional poles. Although I know many fans will choose one franchise over another, or that fans often say that they are “Star Trek people” or “Star Wars people” like they say they are cat people or dog people, I also know that there are many people who, like me, have worshiped at the altars dedicated to both Spock and Yoda since they were children (and yes, I am also both a cat person and a dog person—jeez, I wonder if there is a correlation).

But I think the dichotomy that Ritter sets up in this paragraph is incorrect, particularly on the Star Trek side. Star Trek is “rationality” devoid of “mysticism”. Um, not so fast. Have you seen what’s inside Mr. Spock? Like, telepathy and mind control. How many times has a false god been mistaken for the real thing: Apollo, Vaal, Q, Trelane, the Metrons, and on and on?

As numerous authors have written (for three strong examples, see Porter, Jennifer E. and Darcee L. McLaren (1999), ed., Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture, Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Wagner, Jon and Jan Lundeen (1998), Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, Westport, CN: Praeger; Jindra, Michael (1994), “Star Trek fandom as a religious phenomenon,” Sociology of Religion, 55 (Spring), 27-51), Star Trek in all of its vainglorious iterations is chock-full of mysticism and spirituality. Many, many episodes in the original series could, for example, be seen as symbolizing humanity’s ongoing quest for God, or gods, and an overturning or ambivalence towards this seemingly inescapable yearning in modern times. And as Wagner and Lundeen’s book demonstrates, Star Trek has plenty to do with mythology and archetype. As has any great story.

Which franchise do you think Ritter favors? My bet is that he sees himself more as a rational type than a mystic, and prefers “morally complex” characters to “archetypes” (or is that fictional stereotypes?).

But comparing fan debates in the fictional space to long-standing territorial and religious conflicts in the Middle East is particularly revealing. The fact that a writer can devise and a publication can publish such comparisons can only point to some deep resonance of belief, belonging and identity that comes from fan identity, particularly this, one of the core fan identities of our time.

J.J. Abrams is a master director who plays with mysticism and ambivalence to science. Like creator Chris Carter of The X-Files, his works often peer into the (small v and plural) existential voids, they look at the holes and gaps in technoscientific rationality and human society (even its sciencefictional reflection) and find there the ever-unfulfilled need for certainly and belief, and even spirituality and mysticism.

His works vividly portray this ambivalence and fear and hope and desire, which burns at the very heart of our society. And that is exactly why he is such a good choice to continue to tell these precious modern myths which so many of us hold so dear.

Is Netnography Just a Synonym for Online Ethnography?

netnography_artAt the risk of turning this blog into an advice column, I want to share an interested letter I just received. This sort of correspondence is actually fairly common, and I think the question and answer may be of wider general interest to the readers of this blog.
“Dear R. Kozinets,

My name is Maria Luisa Malerba and I am a PhD student at the Open University of Catalonia (Barcelona, Spain). I am writing because I am currently writing my PhD thesis after the field work and I have a problem of terminology. Despite having read your book, which I found extremely helpful for my investigation, I am still confused about the correct meaning and the exact difference (if any) existing among the following neologisms:

  • netnography
  • virtual ethnography
  • online ethnography
  • digital ethnography
In my investigation I conduct an analysis of informal second language learners on online communites” designed for language learning, such as Livemocha and Busuu. Being this study about learners’ behaviours, the online aspect plays a fundamental role and this research has a primarily netnographic focus. I conducted participant observation, I submitted an online survey, I interviewed learners online and I analyzed the online interaction occurred through the chat that learners submitted to me.My question is: is there a clear distinction among the aforementioned expressions? If I use the term “netnography”, how do I justify that I do not adopt the other expressions, which to me sound like synonyms?Thank you in advance. Looking forward for your answer.

Maria-Luisa Malerba”

In my answer, I tried to be brief but to the point.

“Dear Maria-Luisa:

Thank you for your question. A lot of people ask this, so I will write more about it.

Online ethnography and digital ethnography are generic terms for doing any sort of ethnographic work using some sort of online or digital method. When you use those terms, it is unclear what you have done in terms of what procedures you used, what the methodology is, such as what ethical guidelines you used for example. The literature base you will cite is also a bit amorphous.

Virtual ethnography is the term coined by Christine Hine, and it refers to a method that sees online work as only partial and incomplete. I would expect that if you called your online ethnography a virtual ethnography, then you would adhere fairly closely to the research attitudes and practices, in fact the methodology of combined research philosophy and actions, of Professor Hine as she demonstrated them in her book.

Netnography refers to a specific set of online ethnographic procedures characterized by a particular methodology, including an epistemological background, analytic frameworks, and a consistent and evolving set of guidelines for entree, observation, data analysis, ethics, and so on.

Does that help?

And at what point is something not a neologism? Ethnography, as I write in the book, was a neologism at one time. Netnography is now 18 years old, old enough to vote, drink, marry, and drive in many nations. Hey, netnography, pass me a beer.

Regards,
Rob.”


To my mind, you can say you are a healer, or you can say you are a cardiologist, or an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor, or an energetic healer. When you link yourself with a particular practice, you do more than simply adopt a neologism. You link yourself to a rigorous set of practices and a set of related literatures. Certainly, there is room for innovation. But clarity is very important in the social sciences. And clarity is something that has not been particular well-served by the rapidity of change and silos present in the social media research field.
Is that clearer?

Let It Never Be

As I posted in my last post, at the July 2012 CCT conference in Oxford I presented a few of my poems, which are now collected and published in a volume called “Clarence Clobbers Tenderly.”

One of the poetry readings was captured on mobile phone video by my friend and colleague Ingeborg Kleppe, who generously shared it with me. I recently posted it to Youtube and link to it here.

Because the background sounds are a bit loud, and the recording begins partway into the reading, it is difficult to make out some of the poem. Following is the written version of poem, which is called:

Let It Never Be

And it is said

by those

who find philosophy

in the smashing

of strange

quarks, hadrons, and baryons

with even stranger consciousness

that the mind is

the world’s author

that awareness surgically bifurcates

and every decision we make

cuts a fork into reality

splitting spacetime

like a ribbon.

 

And so with each choice

we make

we break

apart

and leave

behind living

shards shadow

beings who did not

so choose.

 

And through our life

times of choosing

these twin beings

grow to crowds

to villages and cities

whole worlds perhaps

of yous and mes

built of decisions

created of collisions and in

some automatic

and undecided way

they still exist

continuing

following roads

we long abandoned.

 

Let them have them.

 

Let us never feel that urge

to gaze out

across this sea of broken paths and pasts

to peer into the eyes

of all the relinquished yous and mes.

 

And let us never wander to that shore

and never feel compelled to call out

a reminder across this vast ocean

of forsaken lives

whose remainder in sum is life

our life still living not lived yet

and never ever have to say

let it go

let it go

let it go.

 

And let it never be said

that together we did not

create universes.

 

Marketing Poetics: Video, Print, and Live in Oxford

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have written several times in the past about the value of alternative forms of representation of marketing knowledge and consumer research insights. One of the forms of representation in which I have been interested for a long time is poetry. And, for some wonderful reasons, I’ve found my poetic muse lately and have been inspired to write a lot of poetry. Much of which I hope to share with you in various forms and fora.

In this past blog entry, I presented a poem called “Stigmatic Enterprise” and speculated about whether a poem could be translated, or “transmuted” meaningfully into positive knowledge assertion in the form of propositions or even hypotheses.  Here, I wrote about a memorable poetry reading at the 2010 Consumer Culture Theory conference, in which I presented the poem “Marketing Life 101″ to the dubstep accompaniment of DJ Risto Roman.

Well, this year the Consumer Culture Theory conference is back and it is better than ever. August the 16th to the 19th in Oxford England, located in the famous and historic Oxford University. And the poetry session this year promises to be one of the best ever. To honor and promote the event, I am sharing this wonderful poster that promotes the event (I have a matching one hanging in the Schulich offices, and another one on my office door). The themes, as you can plainly see, is “Clarence Clobbers Tenderly.” And really, Gentle Readers, is there a better way to clobber, if you really, really need to clobber, than tenderly?

Clarence Clobbers CCT Consumer Conference Theory Poetry Poetics boxing Oxford 2012

The two other things I will offer and mention are both related to the intriguing, controversial, and I believe stimulating idea that poetry can be a form of research. This discussion has been occuring for a while in the social sciences, particularly in sociology.

In our own field of consumer and marketing research, I’d say that the three most prominent and interesting scholars in this area are John Sherry, John Schouten, and Roel Wijland. The two Johns wrote a very important article on the topic that was published in the field-leading Journal of Consumer Research in 2002. I wrote about and cited that article quite extensively in this blog entry on “iphone Haiku and the poetics of scientific representation.”

In the last several year, Roel Wijland has become an extremely importanr voice and agent provacateur in this area. A former advertising executive with a definite poetic gift, his dissertation was a wry, brilliant, and courageous piece of work that combined poetry with marketing history and analysis. Since doing that important work, he has spearheaded and organized bringing poetry into the field (alongside John Sherry, as you can see in the poster).

Roel approaches the poetic enterprise with serious intent, but a good dose of humor and fun. He is located at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand. As a poetry published, he has made up an invented press called the University of St. Bathans Press, which has done a very nice job of publishing all of the CCT conference poems.However,  St Bathans is the village in New Zealand where he live. It has no university. And, actually, it has a population of only 5 people!

If you are interested in consumer, marketing, and brand related poetry, I highly recommend you check out Roel’s web-site, www.poeticbrandscapes.com.

desert pilgrim videography burning man kozinets poemAnd at the risk of making this a really long blog post, I want to close by saying that the styles and approaches of poetry can be extremely diverse. Ever since 1998, when I wrote and performed the Burning Man research poem “Desert Pilgrim” (available through the link on YouTube), I have been interested in experimenting with poetry that contained actual consumer data within it (I was inspired by sociologist Laurel Richardson‘s work which did this). I also attach the printed 2002 version of the poem Desert Pilgrim which was printed in Consumption, Marketing, and Culture with a number of B&W photographs. You might want to read the poem first, and then hear it performed as it was originally intended, spoken voice over video.  desert pilgrim burning man kozinets poem poetry poetics

Last year, Stephen Gould, the master of introspection asked me to contribute something to a special issue of the Journal of Business Research. I immediately wanted to write an introspective research poem. That poem was published last year, titled “me/my research/avatar.”

  • Kozinets, Robert V. (2012), “me/my research/avatar Journal of Business Research, 65 (April), 478-482.

That poem takes a “behind-the-scenes” look that the project of research ethnography, and uses fieldnotes, published cites, reflections and several unpublished interview questions (i.e., the questions I asked people in interviews, which are usually not published because we only publish their answers; in those questions, I chose ones which were particularly self-revealing) as the grist for my introspective poetic mill. And along the way, I invented a sort of research avatar, a rather shady and cynical being, who also has moments of stunning insight, called “Dark Freddy” (don’t ask me where I got that name, as I have no idea).

The poem from Consumption, Markets, and Culture is available if you click the citation here:

  • Kozinets, Robert V. (2002), “Desert PilgrimConsumption, Markets and Culture, 5 (September), 171-186.

I hope you enjoy the many poems and thoughts about the poetics of consumer research representation available in this post. And I hope to see some of you at the poetry reading in Oxford on the night of August 17, 2012.