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What is netnography?

Last updated

26 April 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

In this digital age, the internet has become a necessary tool for communication and exchanging information. The internet has changed our interactions and opened new research and data collection methods. Netnography is one such method that has emerged as a popular technique for the online study of communities and cultures.

"Netnography" was first coined by Robert Kozinets in his 1998 book, "On Netnography: Initial Reflections on Consumer Research Investigations of Cyberculture." However, he started the concept in 1995 to analyze online fan discussions about the Star Trek franchise.

Netnography is a research method that studies online communities' behavior and activities. It's an innovative approach to ethnography involving the systematic observation, analysis, and interpretation of online data.

Researchers collect and analyze data from online sources such as social media platforms, online forums, and blogs. This data can be quantitative and qualitative, providing insights into the practices and attitudes of online communities. 

Netnography also involves using ethnographic techniques, such as participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus groups, to understand online communities and their culture.

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What is the importance of netnography in research?

Netnography is a vital research methodology in today's digital era. It helps researchers understand how social structures, hierarchies, and norms are formed, reinforced, and challenged in online spaces.

Here are other reasons why netnography is vital in research:

  • Understand online communities: Netnography enables researchers to understand online communities' conduct, attitudes, and experiences and the cultural and social dynamics shaping these communities.

  • Access to large data sets: Online communities generate much data through social media posts, forum discussions, blog posts, and more. Netnography provides researchers with the tools to collect, analyze, and interpret this data, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the communities.

  • Flexibility: Netnography can be adapted to different research questions and contexts, including hypotheses, to help researchers adjust their approach when needed.

  • Cost-effective: Netnography doesn't require expensive equipment or specialized training. Researchers can do it remotely and collect and analyze the data using readily available software and tools.

  • Timeliness: Online communities are constantly evolving, and netnography allows researchers to keep up with these changes and identify emerging trends and issues.

As the internet continues to evolve and transform our lives, netnography will likely become an increasingly important tool for researchers seeking to understand the inconstant landscape of online culture and mannerisms.

How are brands, businesses, and marketers using netnography?

Brands, businesses, and marketers increasingly rely on this research method to gain insights into consumer needs and preferences and inform marketing strategies. Here are some ways in which brands, businesses, and marketers are using netnography:

  • Understanding consumer behavior by reading online conversations about their products or services. As a result, it provides valuable insights into consumer needs and desires, informing product development and marketing strategies.

  • Brands use netnography to identify influencers and key opinion leaders within online communities to help brands engage with influential members of their target audience.

  • Businesses can monitor their brand reputation by analyzing online reports about their brand. This strategy can help while responding to negative feedback and identifying areas where the brand is performing well.

  • Marketers can make informed marketing strategies through insights into consumer preferences. Better marketing strategies can help marketers develop more effective marketing campaigns for their target audience.

By leveraging the insights provided by netnography, brands, businesses, and marketers can understand their target audience and develop strategies that will enable them to connect with consumers in impactful ways.

A step-by-step guide to conducting netnography

Researchers use netnography to gain insights into consumer habits, cultural trends, and social dynamics. It combines traditional ethnographic research techniques with online data collection and analysis, allowing researchers to observe and analyze online interactions, discussions, and behaviors of individuals and groups.

Here are the steps to conducting netnography:

1. Selection of virtual communities

This step involves selecting virtual spaces like social media groups or forums where the target community will gather and discuss the research topic. To identify these virtual communities, researchers must clearly understand their research question or objective.

For instance, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram may be relevant if the research question relates to a specific product or brand. However, online forums or groups like Reddit or Discord may be more appropriate if the research question is associated with a particular interest or hobby.

2. Definition of the duration of the study

Once the virtual communities have been chosen, the next step is to define the duration of the study. It involves setting a time frame for data collection and analysis. The research question and the nature of the virtual community being studied should guide the research timeframe.

3. Data collection

Data collection is a crucial step in netnography that involves gathering data from online conversations and activities related to the research question. There are several methods that researchers can use to collect data, including:

  • Web scraping: Extracts data from websites or social media platforms using the software

  • Data mining: Analyzes large datasets to identify patterns, trends, and relationships using various statistical techniques and tools

  • Manual observation: Involves directly observing and recording online conversations and activities related to the research question

Regardless of the data collection method used, it's crucial to ensure data collection is ethical and the privacy of community members is respected.

4. Interpretation of results

Interpreting the results involves identifying patterns and trends in the data and using these insights to answer the research question. The interpretation of results may include the use of qualitative or quantitative analysis techniques.

  • Qualitative analysis involves examining the data content and identifying themes, patterns, and meanings. This type of analysis may include using coding or categorization schemes to find key themes and concepts within the data.

  • Quantitative analysis uses statistical methods to analyze the data and identify trends or relationships. The survey may use frequency tables, cross-tabulations, or regression analysis to link patterns and relationships.

Researchers may use these analysis techniques to gain insights into the data and validate the findings.


What is the difference between ethnography and netnography?

Ethnography is a research method where one immerses oneself in a particular social or cultural context to understand people's perspectives, ways, and practices. Netnography is a form of ethnography specifically focused on online communities and digital cultures.

What are the limitations of ethnography?

Ethnography can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, requiring significant investment in time, effort, and funding. Additionally, ethnographers may face challenges gaining access to specific communities or groups due to privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent issues.

There is also the potential for bias in data interpretation, as the ethnographer's background, experiences, and perspectives can influence their analysis.

Is netnography qualitative or quantitative?

Netnography is a qualitative research method. It involves an in-depth analysis of social interactions and behaviors in digital spaces.

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