Category Archives: Netnography

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 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?

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.

Netnography in Turkish

Last SummTurkish_Flager I traveled to Turkey and had the time of my life there. It is a beautiful country filled with wonderful people and I cannot say enough about the hospitality, intelligence, and culture of the Turkish people. And of course they are a people of exquisite taste…which is why they are obviously so interested in Netnography.

I have had a number of brilliant Turkish students and colleagues who have been eager early adopters of the netnographic method and are already making big contributions to our global understanding of social media and social media marketing. Before my travels there, a very kind academic translated one of my white papers about Netnography into the Turkish language. I present it in a link here for everyone in Turkey, to hopefully help to bring Netnography to Turkey in even greater and more accessible fashion. Thank you so much for the translation!  I really appreciate it. Here it is

We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Social Media Gurus

social-media-guru_callout.pngA couple of days ago, as I wrote in my last blog posting, I spoke at a Social Media Day gathering in an interesting, concert-like downtown Queen West Toronto venue, to an interesting and varied crowd.

After I had left the stage and assumed a position within the audience, beer in hand, a woman began talking to me in the crowd. Lets call her Jennifer. Jennifer told me that she knew nothing about social media even a few weeks ago, but that her husband had bought her an iPad for their anniversary and now she was devoting all sorts of time to learning it. She had driven up from Niagara Fallsabout a 2-hour drivein order to see the Social Media Day event.

I want to become a social media guru, she said to me, with a big, winning, business-y smile.

Gotta tell ya, Jennifer. Thats just about the last thing the world needs. That, another horndog politician, and four bucks will get you a Starbucks latte.

love-guru.jpgosho_rajneesh_photo.jpgI keep hearing this term social media guru everywhere, usually in puffed-up self-proclamations (which my mom always taught me were faint praise, anyhow) as in Hi, Im George, and Im an alcoholic–and a Social Media guru.

Now, give me a big fat molten chocolate-covered break.

Yes, I know the word guru officially and originally meant “wise teacher? in Hindi. Even so, if you say you are a social media teacher, what are your designations, where is your accreditation, who certifies you to teach about it? It is supposed to mean one with great knowledge and/or wisdom, who uses that wisdom to teach and guide others on a spiritual path. What the heck does it mean to be a self-realized and Fully Ascended Social Media Master, anyways? Is there supposed to be something Intensely Spiritual about the Like Button?

And, here’s the gist. Doesn’t anyone using that honorific realize that, since the days of Bhagwan Shree Rhagneesh, EST, and the whole weird 1970s ESALEN California spirituality vibe thing, the use of the designation guru” in the West always contains with it more than a salt shakers worth of irony, as well a distinctly greenish tinge of worldly avarice lying just underneath spiritual rhetoric, and leading, almost inexorably, to fleets of Rolls Royces?

I mean, come on. Guru? Guru? Really? In the West? In 2011? Without irony?

social_media_experts_as_real_as_unicorns_tshirt-p235421643853038531q08p_400.jpgMe, I am a Ph.D who studied social media in my dissertation and a Full Professor now, and I have had a strong social media component to my classes since 1999. That’s twelves years ago, for those who are counting. I began teaching the first social media course in Canada, and one of the first in the world, in 2007, calling it Word of Mouth Marketing. I have developed multiple courses at undergraduate, graduate, and PhD levels to teach Social Media Marketing and Management. Those course outlines are being used by dozens of other professors around the world right now.

And I am definitely no “Social Media Guru.” No thanks.

I much prefer to be known as a Still-Learning Social Media Expert-in-Progress. Or a Social Media Researcher. Social Media Pioneer? I think I have probably earned that one. I have been researching and writing in this area since 1995, with multiple publications in top peer-reviewed scientific journals. That is legitimacy. I pioneered a social media research approach and method. I have consulted to industry on these matters since before there were blogs. I was one of the first researchers to clearly specify the importance of social media to marketing. I have been in this space for 16 years. Like the few true experts in this area, I can give specific examples of what I have accomplished, rather than writing yet another book with some trendy title that is also subtitled How Your Company Can Profit From Facebook and Twitter” and calling myself by some ridiculously inapplicable Indian honorific.

social_media_guru-f918bc5.jpgSo please forgive me for being more than a little ticked off at the gathering of Social Media Guruslike ants at the proverbial picnic. While this boom is still booming, they will keep swarming. And I feel entitled to spray a little Raid.

As far as I am concerned, if someone comes up and tells you they are a social media guru, they are telling you, essentially, that they have a Facebook and Twitter account, talk about it to their friends and family, and hope to one day cash in on their spiffy mailing list of 406 friends and 217 followers. Maybe they have even written one of the 968 popular business press books about social media you can find lying around the shelves of your local bookstore like old remaindered copies of The Celestine Prophesy or The Coming Stock Market Crash of 2003.

If they come up and tell you they are a Social Media Guru, here is what I think you should say to them. Because it is probably just as true. Dont ask them for their credentials (I will write more about some interested efforts at WOMMA, at Universities, and at NetBase soon to tap in this market need soon). Dont ask them what is new or original about their approach. Certainly dont ask them if they know more about social media itself, or about its application to real marketing or business strategy needs (that might really confuse them). No, you just look them right in the eye nice and steady and say:

“Wow. Me too.

Talking Netnography in Toronto

social media day 2011If you are in Toronto, and we haven’t met, here’s a last minute chance.

I will be talking tomorrow at the Social Media Day 2011 Mashup, as organized by Michael  Nussbacher.

I will be giving an introduction and overview of netnography. Some new stuff, mostly familiar stuff. It is intended for an audience unfamiliar with the virtues of cultural research using social media.

Here’s the link: http://www.meetup.com/Mashable/Toronto-CA/103816/

If you can make it, please introduce yourself. I enjoy meeting the readers of this blog, and thanking you in person for your support and readership.

Spreading the Word, II: Netnography in Portuguese

Our Ph.D. students are truly amazing. They are go-getters, free-thinkers, evangelists, and hard workers. I think so highly of all of them and it is a genuine honor to be working with them.

Yikun Zhao was kind enough in a past posting to have translated my netnography white paper for NetBase into Mandarin Chinese. Now, Daiane Scaraboto has translated it into Portuguese. This is very significant because, as some of you already know, there is a major following for netnography in Brazil, and has been for some time. That is one of the reasons Daiane has come here as a student, to work on the technique and for us to learn from one another.

I have also been working with Debora and Bernardo, two excellent researchers and thinkers from the advertising planning side in an alliance in Brazil that will bring a high-quality of netnography to Brazilian companies that are interested. The firm is called “Folks-Netnografica” and it is growing in influence, with some exciting large new clients. As well, I’ve been talking to a very interesting marketing reseacher who is very interested in the technique. Perhaps this document will help to spread the word among those who speak Protuguese.

Again, if spreading the word around the world is important, then keeping netnography texts as mainly “English-only” is silly. So here comes the “spreadability” Henry J.

Here we go. Netnography 101 and the Listerine brand example. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese

Again, I’d like to thank NetBase for agreeing to allow us to do this with that paper. They asked me to note that the NetBase semantic search engine does not read and analyze  Portuguese–yet. It is currently an English-only search and analysis tool.So here, without further ado, is the Portuguese version of the Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon White Paper. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese. It is presented as a pdf file. I hope that our Brazilian readers and those who are interested in Netnography find it useful. Thank you once again, Daiane Scaraboto and Michael O.

Netnography White Paper in Portuguese