Thinking about the Future of Brands, and Humanity

The Future of Brands and Humanity_2 The Future of Brands and Humanity_2   I was recently asked by my lovely colleague, Susan Fournier, to write a chapter for her book examining Consumer-Brand Relationships. That notion of relationships was so endlessly interesting and worthy of exploration. I had to say yes.

So I thought about this topic and what was so interesting to me. And I thought…hey, the future of these relationships is something that we would like to be able to predict. Can we do that prediction in a cultural sense, then? What would that mean?

The Future of Brands

And Also of Humanity

 

What would it mean to go beyond anthropology as study and writing to anthropology as action, as a practice, as a reclamation of a set of rituals?

For the idea of ethnography has for a while been to learn practices, to actually do and seek to become like the member of the culture, a full participating member.

In order to predict the future of brands, I will use a range of techniques, and combine them, I thought to myself.

I will think of this as a performance, an artwork, an experiment, and a marketing demonstration. Promotional material for my personal brand, in other words.

And at that moment it struck me, like a bolt out of the deep deep blue. ANTHROPOLOGY

 

The union of these two elements, these social media elemental opposites–the corporate brand online and the personal brand online, this is the future of brands.

And I sought from there to find some data with which to explore this idea, and I chanced upon Textualized Prediction HISTORY: some great candidate books, including

  • UBIK, Eye in the Sky, and Perky Pat’s Stigmata that Matter: each by Philip K. Dick
  • Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom: by Cory Doctorow
  • Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties: by William Gibson

NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2I chose to start my work on this topic here, thinking about one of this group of books, as I also contemplate, in public and private, the content for the new netnography book, a book that will be crowdsourced more than anything I have ever tried before

(although much of academic work is, in fact, crowdsourced, which is why it often reads like a crowdsourced text).

In the next blog post, I not only tell you what I am writing about. I start to reveal it to you in the freshest first draft…why not?

Let us begin to try to answer these questions about the future of brands, and along the way of course, of humanity itself.

Human history. And our humanity itself as a quality of Being Human. And then, to reward my loyal readers, I begin to weave in a whole other plotline. One I hope you will follow on CNN as it breaks major marketing news (or does not–a null hypothesis!) in headline form for social media brilliance by a marketing professor who tests the limits of academic theory at the current time. Or not. NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2

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?