Netnography: Capturing Consumer Behavior
Carol Feigenbaum |
 02/28/17 |
8 min read


Marketing demands the flexibility and prowess to understand how long-time best practices and current-day trends coexist and complement each other. So how should marketers be changing up their approach to Netnography?

Observation over asking

First a quick refresher on Netnography – for anyone new to the term. According to MarTech, “Netnography is the branch of ethnography (the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures) that analyses the free behaviour of individuals on the Internet that uses online marketing research techniques to provide useful insights. The term was coined by Robert Kozinets.”

What sets Netnography apart from other marketing research is it allows observation of authentic consumer reactions “in the wild” – i.e., online. This is an advantage over more formal or traditional marketing assessments, like focus groups, where consumers may simply say what they think brands want to hear.

In the early days – say about 5-6 years ago or so – Netnography was primarily used to understand consumers’ perception of a brand, i.e., what they liked/disliked about it, and any other interesting information that could be gleaned from the discussion.

For example, our look at 2010’s Listerine users showed they were talking about things like the taste, germ-killing ability, and alcohol content – all pretty well expected. What was surprising in those results were revelations like Listerine being used as an acne treatment and mosquito repellent, among other things.

These were great insights – but applying social media listening tools only to the brand side of things doesn’t tell you the entire story.

Competition and connection – the world beyond your brand

Yes, you want to know if your product is being used unconventionally, so of course you do have to look at analytics and sentiment tied to your brand name. But there’s so much more you need to know.

Why? Because your research doesn’t just power brand strategy in the sense of consumers telling you they want an alcohol-free version of your mouth wash. No, the insights you uncover also power your messaging on those same channels where consumers interact – and you need to speak to them on their level.

But that’s not the only way in which Netnography has evolved. Where the approach used to be to use Netnography to fill in the details of a pre-defined audience, brands and marketers can now discover new audiences using this technique – and reach far more people, far more authentically.

This is one reason to move beyond mentions of your brand alone. Using social media monitoring to see what your competitors are up to is the other.

That’s not to say applying Netnography for competitive intelligence is new – it’s certainly not. Brands have always wanted to know how they stacked up by comparison to the other brands in their categories. But today’s competitive intelligence tools are vastly superior – because they can more accurately assess consumer passion, and that’s the ballgame.

Why passion matters

Perhaps it’s more correct to say “amplification” is the ballgame – but passion is what drives amplification, for both the good and bad. People who like your brand may do just that – “like” your posts and move on. The people who love your brand, however, are the ones who’ll not only retweet your messaging, they’ll put out their own, singing your praises and bringing others into the fold.

On the flip side, those who dislike your brand may choose not engage, or simply mark their displeasure with an isolated gripe in a comment thread. Those who hate your brand are the ones you need to know about – because they’re the ones who’ll fan the flames by amplifying negative messaging, and even creating content meant to sabotage your brand online.

How can you understand – and thereby stay on top of – consumer passions? Here’s how:

1. Identify audience segments using psychographics

Passion for your brand is one thing, but once you identify the people talking about your brand – an excellent starting point – you need to know what drives them in their daily lives. That’s how you connect with them – not by posting about your upcoming sale, or how great your product line is.

So what you’re looking for are the topics that get them talking most passionately. The work they do, the work they wish they were doing, the pets they love, the shows they watch, the foods they eat, the causes they care about, the cars they drive, where they vacation, and on and on.

This is what you want to talk to them about – and it’s what they want you to talk to them about, so they feel “seen,” and not like just another potential sale. They can tell your brand from your handle, so don’t waste time stating the obvious. Talk to them about them and you’ll really connect.

Of course, not everyone in your audience has the same interests, so you need to develop segments for each new interest group you find. Only then can you offer authentic messaging that feels personal to them. But there’s a big upside to doing this: discovering unlikely audiences you’d never have found in your demographics.

Let’s say your presumed audience is men aged 25-34 who enjoy online gaming. And while looking at the interests of this demographic, you identify love for the Star Wars movie franchise as a popular topic among these gamers. What happens when you expand your analysis to everyone who loves Star Wars and gaming? You may find 40-year-old career women in the mix, or 55-year-old grandfathers. Your assumptions about your audience are far too limiting to be the end of the line – you need to search and segment using psychographics for best results.

2. Recognize both influencers and detractors based on Passion Intensity

Once you have a handle on what drives your audience – and its varying segments – to speak and act on social, you want to identify those occupying the extreme ends of the spectrum emotionally. Those with the highest positive Passion Intensity – the value denoting strength of positive or negative emotions from -100 to +100 – might make ideal influencers.

One consumer goods brand used NetBase to analyze Facebook Topic Data for such insights – uncovering popular teams and athletes their audience loved. The brand developed several partnerships and sponsorships with relevant athletes and events – building a more engaging campaign to continue the momentum started with previous campaigns.

Of course, not everyone will love your brand – and you’ve got to have an eye on the people who don’t, lest you find yourself in the midst of a brand crisis. And this can be tricky, because your haters won’t always convey their message with words alone – or at all.

3. Include emojis in your analysis so you don’t leave any data out of the equation

The growth of emoji use is one big change since the early days of social analytics and Netnography. There are emojis for almost every situation, including theme-specific, pop culture emojis – like Star Trek icon Spock’s “live long and prosper” emoji – along with personal brand emojis for shows like The Walking Dead and personalities like Kim Kardashian, who has her own line of “KIMOJI.”

Emojis often provide the only emotional context for the words in a post – or may serve as an entire post on their own. Consider a simple tweet that says nothing but your brand name. Next to your brand name is a single emoji – perhaps a smiley face with hearts for eyes, or perhaps the brown, swirly character known as the poop emoji.

How does your social listening tool categorize this post if it can’t account for the emoji? Yes, it’s a mention, but if you can’t assign it a positive or negative value – when it in fact has one – how accurate is the picture you’re getting?

You’ve got to be able to account for sentiment however it’s represented – especially when it’s negative. If you don’t, you leave the door open for competitors to swoop in and solve problems you don’t even know about.

4. Analyze images/logos for the most thorough understanding of consumer sentiment

Emojis aren’t the only graphics that can cause your brand trouble on social. And while we may not have a means for analyzing general images on their own just yet, we can identify one critical image issue that impacts brand health: logo misappropriation.

When you consider the popularity and viral potential of images and memes, it’s paramount to be on top of any that take your brand to task. Social monitoring tools that can spot your logo – and any sinister variations – must be part of your arsenal.

The Sacramento Kings know the importance of this, as an early rendering of their updated logo was leaked online prior to the official unveiling. It turned out the leaked image wasn’t the final version, so the team and their agency, Camp + King, decided not to address the negative sentiment surrounding the new logo – knowing their campaign message accompanying the actual logo launch would engender support for the team’s new direction. But without knowing the wrong version of the logo was out there, they couldn’t have made that call.

5. Analyze your audience in real-time, as well as over time

Historic data will always be important, but what’s changed the game for the better is the ability to mine social data in real-time. This lets you respond to trends or emerging crises as they’re happening, to keep your brand on the cutting edge and safe from disaster, as the case may be.

Social media listening tools like NetBase Pro are great for pointing you in a direction worth exploring in more detail, giving you a look at what consumers are saying about brands, key topics, and prominent people in the social realm right now.

For example, taking a look at conversation surrounding the Academy Awards – in progress at press time – gives brands a lot to draw from trend-wise:

oscars hashtags

In addition to the obvious – like movie titles – there are some interesting terms in the mix, like #boycottoscars – a call from conservative viewers to avoid the anticipated politically charged acceptance speeches some actors might offer.

Another is #muslimban, speaking to Iranian Best Foreign Film nominee Asghar Farhadi’s choice to not attend the Oscars:

muslim ban tweet

With a show like the Academy Awards, which is constantly changing based on the performances, awards, and speeches happening live, a tool like Instant Search is invaluable for keeping you attuned to the swiftly changing topics.

Any trends or concerns you identify can also be tracked over time to see if your brand needs to act further. This is a huge benefit – versus missing out on a trend, or being caught off guard by a brand crisis when it’s reached critical mass.

Better insights right now

What current social analytics technology affords is accurate insights that go further than insights of the past, delivered in real-time so brands can act just as quickly. Driven by consumer passions, this data can inform your brand far beyond social messaging. It can fuel the strategies behind your consumer experience, customer service, product design, and every other aspect of brand health. It’s Netnography Plus.

All you need are the right tools, and a little know-how to take advantage of the wealth of available data. Both are readily available – so don’t wait another minute to uncover the insights that can put your brand at the top.

We can help! Our social media listening tools come with easy-to-use tutorials and unparalleled customer service so you can get started right away. Reach out today!


Image from Mark Hillary




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