Friday, June 08, 2007

Met the father of Netnography

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to the father of Netnography, Professor Rob Kozinets. If you’re not already familiar with netnography, it’s something to be aware of if you’re a market researcher or innovator. Netnography applies the techniques of ethnographic research to the Internet.

Here are some of its benefits, as drawn from “The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities” (Journal of Marketing Research, Feb. 2002):

Benefits of Netnography

  • Netnography is faster, simpler, and less expensive than traditional ethnography
    Compared with focus groups and personal interviews, netnography is far less obtrusive, because it is conducted using observations of consumers in a context that is not fabricated by the marketing researcher.
  • More timely than focus groups and personal interviews.
  • Netnography provides marketing researchers with a window into naturally occurring behaviors.

In talking to Professor Kozinets I learned that the field of netnography began circa 1996 as an offshoot of his ethnographic research on Star Trek fandom. It turned out that a lot of the fans had taken the community online. Kozinets coined the term ‘netnography’ when he began studying online Star Trek fans.

The field of netnography has two sub-fields:

  • Observational Netnography
  • Participatory Netnography

Observational netnography is where the researcher learns about the community by studying the members of the community. In participatory netnography, the researcher becomes a part of the community and posts to the community like its other members. Here, the researcher learns by doing.

This distinction reminds me of a new favorite distinction of mine: the etic and the emic perspective. Etic perspective is an outsider’s view and emic perspective is an insider’s view. Therefore, observational netnography gives the researcher an etic perspective and participatory gives an emic perspective.