The netnography or digital ethnography is a method that allows researchers to study the way people behave and interact in the digital world. It is nourished by the basic method of study of anthropology: ethnography. And while some imagine it simply as online ethnographic research, this new technique has much more to offer. Netnography views social media not only as a research site or a tool, but as an ongoing system of intelligence and perception generation.
Mainly digital ethnography focuses on two things
- The study of “digital culture“. In this sense, the Internet is understood as a socio-cultural space, and therefore the data produced on the networks is understood as cultural content. People generate millions of data every day on the internet on their own initiative. More and more people share their day-to-day lives on the networks, allowing access to their ambient intimacy. From what they have eaten, where they are or what they are doing, people seek to share moments of their lives with other people and show their experiences. By doing this they are generating data and data and more data. Data about your tastes, interests, preferences, problems, concerns, etc. This produces changes in the ways in which people interact. How do people behave on the internet? How does digital technology affect offline culture? Netnography helps us understand these changes.
- The use of digital tools and techniques to do research . More and more researchers are making use of new technologies such as smartphones, tablets and apps in their studies. Although at first the researchers used these tools to record the data themselves, now it is the participants themselves who take photos or videos and decide what and when to send it. Thanks to mobile applications, researchers can obtain real-time data from several subjects at the same time. In these cases, people do not generate data on their own initiative, but rather as part of a research collaboration and are guided by the researchers.
In this sense, digital ethnography has been widely exploited in the world of marketing and companies to do market research and understand customer behavior.
Through conventional interviews there is always information that we are missing. We know that people’s memory is not as accurate, and that factors such as power relations often contaminate the information produced with techniques such as focus groups. One of the advantages of “digital” research is that the study subjects can be more involved in the research process, participating from their comfort spaces: their homes, their jobs, their celebrations (rituals?). They are the ones who record aspects of their lives and send them to us.
Many applications are capable of categorizing and analyzing certain of the data they receive. And that supposes the opening of a myriad of opportunities for the investigator. But beware! No application replaces the anthropological gaze. It is the researchers, and not the machines, who are in charge of finding the insights. The very decision to send a photo is also a piece of information, difficult to interpret by a machine.
- Different forms of data can be captured very efficiently with technology.
- Less observer influence.
- You win in context (metadata: the information comes with the location, time, etc. thanks to geolocation).
- Automatic data transcription.
- Automatic archiving of data.
- You can do the research from anywhere, such as from your home, to people in any other part of the world.
It seems that the very discipline from which the roots of netnography emanate, anthropology has been more timid in using these new techniques. From here I encourage you to explore the possibilities that you have within your reach to expand the ways in which anthropology develops.