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?

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.

Blog in the Air after Boğaziçi

To [mis]quote one of my all-time favorite bands, Pink Floyd:

Blog
Blog in the air
Don’t be afraid to care.

Yes, I’m blogging in the air. Turkish Airlines has a great new wifi service on some of their flights, and I am currently flying back to Toronto from Istanbul, Turkey on flight 0017. Right now I am over the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere south of Godthab, Greenland (do you love those inflight map monitors as much as I do?). The Turkish Airlines login page says something like “we are temporarily offering this new service free to customers.” Temporarily free. Which is sort of like offering crack in the schoolyard as “temporarily free.”

When you accept the terms of service they make you explicitly swear you will not use voice over IP protocols, so forget your dreams of Skype calling from the air. Ain’t gonna happen, it seems. Smoking, and VoIP—the two last frontiers of no-nos in the air. And surprising the Captain with a little hello visit. And, so I hear, using the bathroom to (re)assert your membership in the Mile High Club still tends to be frowned upon as well. So four no-nos in all.

Remember when long air flights were a chance to relax, or read a book? Not any more. Now you can return email and catch up on work instead. Of my entire row of 8 people, 7 of us are currently sitting with iPads and open laptops, clearly online. Wifi is provided in an alliance with T-mobile, so I’d expect this is going to be very commonplace on most flights soon.

Kozinets at Bogazici University IstanbulA couple of words might be in order about my presentation yesterday at the beautiful and historic Boğaziçi University in Istanbul (it is pronounced “bo-oz-uh-ji”). It was in a beautiful, wood-lined, seriously academic room with some very important executives from some of Turkey’s top businesses, retailers, agencies, HR firms, and other companies, as well as PhD, Master’s and undergrad students.

I presented an entirely new talk about social media, technology use, and the directions companies must follow. The room was a beautiful old room, and the hosting by  Boğaziçi U’s Dean, Aysegul Toker, a social media and mobile scholar who published a terrific book along with professors Kaan Varnali and Cengiz Yilmaz, was immaculate and eminently Turkish (in case you didn’t know it, Turkish people are world famous for their hospitality and warmth—and yes, I am biased).

Mobile Marketing bookI recommend their book—Mobile Marketing: Fundamentals and Strategy– as a very interesting, empirically-based and thorough scientific look not only at the Turkish mobile market, but also as at how mobile is permeating all sorts of new markets and raising fascinating strategic management and marketing issues. This is one of the most important frontiers of the marketing world, and this book contributes much-needed knowledge and know-how to our understanding. And yes, just in case you were wondering, social media and mobile marketing Professor Kaan Varnali himself was present at my presentation!

My own presentation used some concepts from recent analyses of “Arab Spring” to introduce and develop five new trends to explain where businesses need to go in their use of the Internet and technology. To give you a bit of the flavor of the talk, I opened it up by asking the audience how many of them believe that social media is currently in a “bubble” phase, with a lot of overblown hype about how they need to be out there investing their dollars in social media marketing campaigns.

What do you think? I would like to hear your opinions. And I will be happy to share some of my own thinking and to continue developing my ideas through this blog and in my other social media communications.

Hmmmm. Now the baby behind me is screaming its head off. This actually is not my office after all. Well, at least it’s not like the last flight back from Istanbul, where I was seated next to a guy who was having a 10-hour long gas attack. But this is definitely verging on sonic warfare.

Stay tuned. Everything in the world of social media marketing right now is, like me, up. And up in the air.