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What is Netnography?

A starting point for aspiring Netnographers

Photo by Jan Baborák on Unsplash

First things first, Netnographers are people who do netnography.

Robert Kozinets founded Netnography = Network + Ethnography in 1995.

If you are familiar with the concepts of Network and Ethnography you can skip the two paragraphs below.

Networks in Netnography

Networks here refer to several people and the connections between them. Think of the net we use to collect fish; composed of nodes and links between them/edges. These nodes in our network case are humans and the edges are communications between them. The thicker the edge, the stronger the connection/communication. In Netnography we are discussing techno-culture, which is people’s usage of technology to communicate. Technology means rapid changes, in the networks, the institutions, legislation, ideas, and the algorithms impacting them.

Ethnography the mother of Netnography

The study and systematic recording of human cultures. — Merriam Webster

In that sense, ethnography is the descriptive study of communities and cultures. Maybe the one word that may stop one here is: ‘descriptive’. What does that mean? The work of the ethnographer requires that she/he stays in the field for some time and participates in daily life. Participation is a key to ethnographer work. We call this method/technique: Participant Observation.

Ethnography — Portraying People — Writing Cultures

  • Uses social and cultural academic theories to scale the understanding of a small group to a larger one.
  • Actionable by working in complementary and enhancing practices like design thinking, user experience, or organizational development.

Netnography = Networks + Ethnography

Robert Kozinets founded netnography in 1995. Therefore, it makes sense to listen to him explain Netnography. Here is a 3′:16″ video of Robert Kozinets explaining what Netnography is. Alternatively, if you are an avid reader, you can buy the netnography book on amazon here.

Now let us look at the advantages of Netnogrpahy:

1. Netnography Methodology — Naturally occurring materials.

Ethnography pays extensive attention so as not to let the researcher disrupt the culture she or he is studying. Conducting a netnography study requires that the researcher hang out with people of the studied community. This, make them aware of the research process which makes them more self-conscious. They start to monitor and -unfortunately, censor- themselves. Which alters the study environment and results. They are not acting spontaneously or better put, they are not behaving the way they would usually behave if the researcher was not there.

No fabricated context

Photo by Johannes Plenio on

Netnographers do not usually take aggressive intervention moves to get the research material. No one here is fabricating the context. Netnography does not pose unrealistic and even aggressive questions to obtain the material:

  • ‘here, sit and fill in this 30 items questionnaire’, or;
  • ‘this questionnaire will take only five minutes’, or maybe;
  • ‘did you like that cup of coffee you drank back on April 15th, 1985?’

Or even worse; the type of questions expose traumatized people to additional pain and confusion:

  • ‘during the civil war which destroyed your country 15 years ago, your best friend was shot; did you feel at that time: ‘sad, confused, scared, or other?’

In netnography, all we need to do is to do our homework as researchers without shifting responsibilities. We go and immerse ourselves in the researched communities and study what people are sharing and -shared- online. Their words, their stories, their feelings.

2. Netnography Findings — Much deeper and more elaborate investigation

It is good to remember that traditional research forms many times fail short to provide deeper insights. On the other hand, netnography provides deeper insights into human experiences, aspirations, intentions, and more.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on

3. Netnography is less expensive

Netnography depends on naturally-occurring materials. That said, gathering research material is less expensive than in other traditional forms of research such as questionnaires, personal interviews, and focus groups.

Netnography Limitations

A legitimate question that comes to mind now is about Netnography problems/difficulties/limitations. Do they exist? What are they?

Two main challenges

Absolutely yes. Like any human research & development experience, Netnography has its shortcomings.

  • Granting that we are studying online communities and cultures, we lose details about offline activities.
  • the need for researcher interpretive skill

Overcoming the limitations

Yet, we can carefully use convergent data collection methods that bridge offline and online research in a systematic manner (Kozinets 1998, 2002).

Applied Netnography

Here is a brief showcasing of the possible applications of netnography to businesses and other activities and sectors.

Netnography Case Study One — Yoplait Yogurt and Mom-Shaming

Yoplait produced a video addressing the kinds of things that moms are sick of hearing. Yoplait disseminated the video on YouTube and unsurprisingly the video resonated with their fans.


6 million views + 1,461% rise in brand interest.

Netnography Case Study Two — The Campbell Soup

They wanted to revive their kitchen and turned to explore whether netnography can provide some answers.

Photo by eat kubba on

Listening to their online communities, the company gained new insight.

Customer insights through Netnography

  • How mood affected people’s choices about what to eat.
  • Uncovered new market potentials by spotting pain points of busy people looking for easy to prepare meals.
  • Discovered possible ways to design new offerings with more attentive consideration to portion control and weight loss concerns.


Unique monthly visitors went from 120,000 to over a million only in four months.

Netnography helps your business

What is common between these examples in a nutshell, is that we can think of Netnography as our way to 1- acknowledging in an interesting and lovable way, 2-a pain point 3- with a specific segment of targeted audience/prospects/customers,

What is next? Where to go after you have read this.

Photo by Isaque Pereira on

Access the Library — Explore more — Grow your global understanding — Get the Bird’s eye view.

Explore other examples by visiting the Netnographers studies section by clicking here. Choose the relevant sector to your work/interests. From there you can review the studies you want.

Familiarize yourself with practical examples.

You can access our mini-course Managing Online Communities.

Remain informed.

Join the Netnographers community.

Keep reading similar articles.



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Bilal Zaiter

Bilal Zaiter

Writing makes life joyful. You will often find me playing at the digital humanities playground.