Virtual Ethnography - How to understand your customer?

What is Virtual Ethnography?

Ethnography, by definition, is concerned with describing and analyzing the popular cultures of groups and communities, Virtual Ethnography, on the other hand, involves studying the behavior of entire groups of Internet users, without individualization. Its goal is to obtain the most accurate data on a given community, looking at the reactions and preferences of those analyzed. People's activities on the Web are closely related to their needs in the real world, and the Internet allows the researcher to get to know them better and observe the actual behavior of the group of interest. It is possible to analyze both current and past moods - after all, nothing is lost on the Web.

Get to know the communities

At the time of the experiment, it is important to blend into the environment properly, so that the respondents do not sense a "stranger" in their midst. In some narrow, specialized groups, due to the restriction of anonymity, it is unwelcome just to browse through posts or ask too many questions - they expect discussion, to share their own experiences, to show that one is a real member of the community. Such sensitivity testifies to how important it is in some people's lives to share their insights with their online friends, and at the same time underscores how reliable the data obtained in this way can be, and Virtual Ethnography strives to learn as much as possible about the natural and real reactions and behavior of Internet users.

Become a researcher!

The researcher mostly does not reveal his identity - he enters the virtual community as a participant or observer. Virtual Ethnography assumes two scenarios:

  • An observer, a member of a particular group (social networks, chat rooms, portals, etc.) - his task is to blend into the environment and carefully analyze behavior, but without interacting in any way with other participants. He examines the context of the posts posted, their purpose and form.
  • Active user - establishing relationships with members, actively participating in the community, but not influencing its goals or value system. He can provoke others to discuss a given topic by posting controversial statements, asking questions.

Tools at your fingertips

Virtual ethnography uses a number of tools with different levels of sophistication. An example of a free tool is Google Trends, which provides information on the volume, origin or distribution over time of specific queries in Google search. It allows you to profile your target audience, as well as find the most effective channel for promotion. Another way to quickly gather basic data is to analyze photos and posts described with tags. This facilitates efficient selection of interesting information and gives an idea of the community's thoughts on a given topic. When conducting a survey, it is also worth reading the content posted on portals and websites dedicated to the topic, comments from users and experts.

21st century research

The ways in which surveys are conducted must adapt to the changing reality and the transfer of parts of our lives into the virtual world. Traditional consumer surveys conducted during the process of market analysis, among other things, are still good sources of information, but they can carry the risk of distorting the results - the people being observed usually answer questions about their behavior rather than show their true reactions. The anonymity afforded by the Internet opens up new opportunities for people to express their thoughts and opinions, and Virtual Ethnography fills this gap and is an excellent complement to standard observation methods.

Alexandra Romanovich

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