Category Archives: Qualitative Research Methods

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?

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.

 

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.

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.

Journal of Marketing Appointment Announcement

jm_cover.jpgThis blog is getting some “red hot” editorial news about the State of Marketing Scholarship these days. My last post broke the news about the new editorial team at the Journal of Consumer Research (“JCR”).

And here is a very fresh one about the #1 Journal in the Marketing field.

As many of you are aware Gary Frazier is the editor elect of the Journal of Marketing (or “JM”) and will be taking over in July of 2011 from Ajay Kohli. For a while, Ajay, Gary, and Bob Leone have acted as co-editors of the journal. As with JCR, the manuscripts flows in the main journals in our field have been increasing dramatically, necessitating some editorial action to share the workload.

Gary has decided to change the structure of the Journal of Marketing to one that includes Associate Editors (or “AEs”). I think this is a very smart move. AEs at JM will have considerable latitude to make recommendations, but the final decision will always lie with the Editor-in-Chief, that is, Gary. Gary has appointed 16 AEs, some truly excellent people, and I believe he is looking for a couple more.

marketing_journals_411×211.jpgGary has asked me to be an Associate Editor of JM for his term and I have happily accepted. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Gary.

What this means, I believe, is that the Journal of Marketing is institutionalizing a role and a place for Consumer Culture Theory, cultural, or “qualitative” approaches to practical marketing issues in the field. This is big news. It is something that many of us in the CCT field have been working towards for many years. More top tier options for our publications is important to continuing the institutionalization of CCT work as an important and necessary (albeit minority) component of all Marketing Scholarship, Marketing Education, and Marketing Departments.

At the #1 journal in the Marketing field, we now have, perhaps more than ever before, the promise of a real presence and solidified representation at the top of the field.

I think that a look at the past 7 years of cultural work in JM will show that CCT work is getting more and more applied, and offering increasingly powerful pragmatic insights to the marketing industry.

The move is also presenting  a natural place for all types of social media and social media marketing research. One of my personal goals is to raise the quality and profile of research on social media and social media marketing research.

Officially, these will be the areas of the Journal of Marketing that I will have Associate Editor authority over:

Primary (substantive) content area

Internet and social media marketing

Secondary content areas

  1. Word-of-mouth marketing;
  2. entertainment marketing;
  3. brand and product management;
  4. retailing

Methods: 

  • Qualitative/ethnographic (e.g., discourse analysis, semiotics, phenomenological interviews, metaphor analysis),
  • Other methodological orientations as necessary (I am trained and versed in a variety of different methods)

If you do social media research using qualitative methods, you can pretty much guess who is going to be shepherding your work though JM.

So starting in July I will be looking forward to seeing all your best managerially-oriented work sent to us at the Journal of Marketing. I will do my very best to make sure it gets treated fairly or even better, and to publish the best work to keep our field of Marketing moving steadily forward.

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