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Netnography, or virtual ethnography, is a method of gathering qualitative information and analyzing the behaviors of people in online communities dedicated to real-world topics. It is fast, simple, and inexpensive method that has the added benefit of being less intrusive to test users. Researchers immerse themselves in the online conversations participants have in chat rooms, in forums, and on social media rather than invading their homes and offices. The further advantage for the UX researcher, is that people are generally more candid about industry problems and company news than traditional news sources.

Netnography is something many of us already do when we read online product reviews, ask a question of our followers on Twitter, or read conversations on sites like Quora or Stack Overflow. This makes Netnography easy to integrate into current processes.


Schedule Time & Gather Materials

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Schedule Time:

  • Time Needed: 2-3 Weeks Dedicated
    Ongoing over the course of your product’s lifespan
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Online search services
  • Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter
  • Links to forums & chat rooms for your topic
  • IRC

Carry Out This Method

  1. In the early stages of product planning and development, set aside 2-3 weeks for online research.
  2. Look for 4 different online follower personas, outlined by Robert Kozinets in 1999, in order to understand user points of view better:
    1. Newbies. Newbies have lower engagement with the topic and weak community ties.
    2. Minglers. Minglers have low- to medium-engagement with the topic but are strongly tied to the community.
    3. Devotees. Devotees have very high engagement with the topic, and are less focused on the community.
    4. Insiders. Insiders have very strong ties to both the topic and its community. The “official” bodies behind the topic – magazine publishers, record label representatives, game developers, television producers, etc. – are often aware of these “famous fans” of the topic because of their contributions. They have unique third-party insights into community attitudes regarding the topic.
  3. Learn what Newbies have gathered about the topic and community based on the introductory information they’ve received.
  4. Minglers, particularly “super-minglers” – those with slightly more engagement with the topic – are interested in making recommendations, educating newbies, and acting as a liaison between devotees and insiders. Ask them for things like survey results and links to blog entries about the topic.
  5. Contact Devotees directly via private messages, instant messages, or forum replies to deep-dive into their opinions a bit more. Ask them for ideas, suggestions, and features – their input is more likely to make sense in the context of the topic and conform to user expectations.
  6. Ask Insiders for insights into the community and its developing attitudes that Newbies would not have; for example, why users have left the community in the past, and what new users have often cited as their reason for joining the community. If you need to make connections with more community VIPs, go to Insiders to make those connections.
  7. Look at insights gathered from all four persona groups together and separately. Look for commonalities within each group and between all four groups. Look for differences within the same persona group between different social platforms as well.

Try These Tips

  • Continue looking for user opinions over the course of your product’s life. In particular, look to Newbies and Insiders to learn how people react to new features and major product changes.
  • When interviewing stakeholders and users, ask what social media platforms they use for industry insights.
  • Be aware that social media is typically not moderated. Information must be confirmed by multiple reliable sources to be trusted.

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