In an ESOMAR 3D 2011 presentation, Gregor Jawecki of HYVE reviewed the past decade of netnography research to understand its implications for future social media analysis.

What is netnography?

“Netnography uses natural occurring and openly accessible consumer dialog to immerse into consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, needs and ideas: it is qualitative research, nonparticipative with manual data gathering. It is ethnography adapted to the Internet.”

Why is netnography important?

“More than 50% of Fortune 500 companies have made open innovation an integral part of their innovation strategy.” Open innovation extends to consumers, embracing their “knowledge, experiences, creativity and ideas are understood as valuable partners.”

A great way to learn about consumers is communities. Communities exist for almost any topic: for instance, more than 440 communities dealing with sunless tanning issues, a chainsaw forum has over 6,000 members and over 660,000 posts, and an aquarium forum has tremendous participation.

How has netnography evolved?

Robert Kozinets introduced netnography in 1991 for academic research. It was introduced online 1998 and 1998-2004 represented the era of introduction; from 2004 to 2009 was the era of standardization, and from 2009 till now is the optimization of the technology.”

Which departments conduct netnography research?

Market Research, Marketing and Research & Development each apply netnography repeatedly to better understand consumers.

How is netnography currently applied and how are the findings used in internal processes?

  • Innovation – The true value of netnography reaches “its full potential in an innovation-related context: focus on creativity, ‘fresh ideas’ and as a spark for internal innovation.” As one R&D manager said, “A good idea is a good idea whether it comes from an individual or a group.”
  • Exploration of new product fields – “Whenever you enter territories you are not familiar with, which are still somewhat uncharted, the core strength of netnography is its ability to swiftly generate 90% of the knowledge in it.”
  • Additional perspectives in known sectors – When you do understand a major domain, netnography provides actual usages that you might have missed.

What are the advantages of netnography?

Netnography can provide information across 4 types:

    1. Needs, motivations, attitudes and behavior of consumers
    2. Perceptions of products
    3. Suggestions for innovation
    4. Solutions and prototypes

What are the limitations of netography?

The main challenge lies in the adoption and assimilation of findings. Netnography findings are subject to internal resistance as part of the “Not Invented Here” syndrome. Internal constituencies are more likely to welcome needs information than solutions information. Need information complements existing knowledge and offers interpretational freedom and insights into consumers’ language, where solution information often conflicts with existing solutions, makes it difficult for internal staff to blind out their own knowledge and undermine their own solution competitive representing a source of competition.

Some ways to overcome this:
  • Visualizations should convey a “work in progress” appeal rather than a finished solution, giving staff the freedom to bring in their own ideas.
  • Stakeholders should be included throughout the process to reduce their likelihood of rejecting external ideas.
  • People in the online community can be invited to participate in workshops to discuss their ideas and engage staff.

To sum up, Gregor said, “Netnography and other observational approaches wil gain in importance, but new communication channels may require the adoption of social media analysis tools (and privacy concerns will become more important). The main challenge is the adoption of findings which requires a change of mind of all people involved: the role of innovation managers will change from holders of knowledge to faciltators of the internal and external network. Increased effort will be directed to combination with qualitative approaches to reduce manual work and for quantitative validation.”

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.