Netnography is the branch of ethnography (the study and recording of human cultures) that analyzes the free behavior of individuals on the Internet that uses online marketing research techniques to provide useful insights.

The term was coined by market research expert Robert Kozinets. It provides information on the symbolism, meanings, and consumption patterns of online consumer groups.

Netnography is focused on cultural insights. Consumers making lifestyle, product and brand choices are increasingly turning to computer-mediated communication for information on which to base their decisions. Besides perusing advertising and corporate websites, consumers are using virtual communities and other online social sharing formats to share ideas and contact fellow consumers who are seen as more objective information sources. The freely expressed opinion of individuals on the social web provides researchers with data coming from thousands of individuals behaving freely. It also allows researchers to keep record of these interactions, quantify changes over time, and perform analysis using a variety of tools and methods.

The study of communication patterns and content between/within these social groups on the Internet is one method of netnographic analysis. These social groups are popularly referred to as ‘virtual communities.’ However, the term ‘virtual’ might misleadingly imply that these communities are less ‘real’ than physical communities. Yet, ‘these social groups have a ‘real’ existence for their participants, and thus have consequential effects on many aspects of behavior, including consumer behavior.’ Individuals participating in these ‘virtual communities’ often share in-depth information on themselves, their lifestyles, and the reasons behind the choices they make as consumers.

The knowledge exchanged within these public communities is often commercially valuable, as it can help companies develop better marketing strategies, help identify industry trends or candidates for employment, or help product engineers improve their products. Not surprisingly, since these communities often include attempts to inform and influence fellow consumers about products and brands, and since one major factor influencing positive brand equity for one brand over another is consumer advocacy, commercial firms are often very interested in determining the level and nature of conversation around their brands and products, and looking for methods to influence those conversations.


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