Big data? Think again.

If big data look at the accuracy when researching social media, netnography – as proposed by professor Robert Kozinets – looks into the big picture, the complexity of connections, cultures and meanings and the real human behind the screen.

One type of netnography is auto-netnography, where the researcher explores their feelings, emotions and evocations in order to understand a cultural experience in an online community of its own people.

So what?

Our own experiences and stories matter, they mold our perceptions and decisions, they drive our future actions. However, most of the time we look for answers outside our own selves and not within us.

Auto-netnography can help us analyze these experiences systematically. This is not only about reflexivity, but about using this inner data (memories or reflexive field notes) together with external data to make sense – as researchers- of a specific online community or the digital experience in its own context.

Auto-netnography requires the researcher to be an insider or a member of the community vis-à-vis his research and, because of this, the result can be of high managerial value.

Who and for what can we do auto-netnography?

Scholars can use auto-netnography to study their own people and experiences. The researchers can use their experience – as consumers or marketers – as empirical data to then build on a conceptual theoretical contribution.

However, this research method is not limited to scholars. Organisations can also use auto-netnography in different ways. For example, consumers’ auto-netnography can lead to a better understanding of the market.

On the other hand, marketers can focus on understanding their relationships with the users, especially in today’s real time, co-created brand content scenarios. I am particularly interested in what I call Brand Auto-nethnography. Here, a person or group of persons that manage the brand’s on-line community systematically analyzes their own roles/identities, performances, interactions, decisions and emotions – where the I or Self is the brand persona, not the individuals themselves. For example, this can be useful to make sense of different social media approaches, re-think the brand identity or to come up with eureka moments and out-of-the-box ideas.

Finally, individuals can try to make sense of their own behaviors, interactions and emotions on a particular online community for personal insights on creating a personal brand, or even to deal with anxiety, stress or their own fears.

How do we do it?

In my article, I have proposed the following 6-step framework (a journey guide) to do an auto-netnography research:

  1. The traveller: Understanding of the position and status of the researcher in the community, which depends on the type of involvement, the purpose of the involvement, the time period of the experience and his position in the community.
  2. The map: The type of auto-netnography that you choose. For example, if it is going to be more evocative or analytic.
  3. The routes: Decisions on the data collection, the sample and the time period to analyze it.
  4. The learning: Level of learning pretended, this could be a theory contribution, an organisational/brand research or a practitioner insight.
  5. The telling: Writing style of the auto-netnography, decisions regarding the voice style, how to tell the story and whether to include other voices.
  6. The safety of the trip: Ethics’ consideration of the research for the self and for others.

As we advance on artificial intelligence and big data, the human eye and the human understanding are and will be more important than ever. Thus, research methods such as netnography or auto-netnography should be part of the features to be considered on the researcher’s portfolio.

Read the original research article: Villegas, D. (2018). From the self to the screen: a journey guide for auto-netnography in online communities. Journal of Marketing Management, 34(3-4), 243-262.

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Dino Villegas

Dino Villegas

Dino Villegas is an Associate Professor of Practice in the area of Marketing at the Rawls College of Business, Texas Tech University. His research interests cover areas such as social media, marketing communications, communication strategies, branding and netnography. He has over a decade of experience as a consultant in industries such as mining, construction, postal services, transport, financial services, retail, telecommunications, non-profits organization and politics, among others. He is the Vice President of the Iberoamerican Communication Strategies Forum (FISEC), a research effort that brings together academics from over 20 countries.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.