Netnography: What It Is and How to Use It

Consumers are complex. And segmenting them by simple demographics doesn’t tell the whole story. People gather online according to their interests, and the subcultures they create are intricate and transcend traditional demographic boundaries. That’s where netnography comes in to uncover the subtleties of consumer interest. The aim is to paint a vivid picture that allows for more precise brand messaging.

Here, we’ll explore what netnography is and how to use it, with a focus on:

  • What is netnography?
  • How are brands, businesses & marketers using netnography?
  • Netnography in action – driving successful business outcomes

First, here are some statistics to help drive home the importance of using netnography to get your voice of the customer (VoC) intel on point.

  • It’s critical that your brand messaging and the audiences you target are as precise as possible. 59% of consumers will refer a brand to friends and family, so it pays to ensure you’re targeting the right groups in the first place.
  • 63% of customers are likely to feel more positively about a brand if their content is relevant or interesting. So, targeting specific interest groups within your consumer base with diversified messaging will make your brand more relatable.
  • Identifying the psychographic properties of consumers is a critical first step to finding new communities to target. Since 71% of marketers’ aims with influencer marketing is to reach new audiences, netnography will ensure you choose the right ones for the job.

So, what is netnography exactly? Let’s take a look!

2021 state of social report

What is Netnography?

According to Martech Zone, netnography is defined as “the branch of ethnography (the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures) that analyzes the free behavior of individuals on the internet [using] online marketing research techniques to provide useful insights.”

More simply, netnography is social listening that explores user’s conversations in their natural habitat to discern what makes them tick. The ‘free behavior’ aspect is critical since the dialogue is more likely to be free of outside influence, which could be the case with something like surveys or focus groups.

Drilling down into consumer conversations of this type looks far beyond vague demographics to deeply understand the motives, interests, slang and culture of people groups. This is important for brand messaging because once you can speak their language, you can build a relationship.

That’s what today’s consumers want from brands anyway. They are gravitating towards brands that can talk their talk. They feel seen – and that makes your brand more attractive to them.

Honestly, hanging your marketing hopes on common demographics is old hat. Netnography drills down into the consumer psyche for a precision viewpoint. And this is achievable for brands with modern social media analytics tools that are capable of sorting for psychographic data. This includes determining personality traits, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyle attributes.

The benefits of getting to know your consumers in this way are enormous. If you are in a broad category, you can dissect your audience to find points of interest that you can use to create targeted messaging that pinpoints a segment of your consumer base.

For example, suppose your brand is in the cosmetics industry. In that case, your social listening will reveal that a swath of your consumers is interested in anime and comics. Digging further indicates that a subset of this interest group is actively engaged in cosplay of their favorite characters. That being the case, working with an Instagram influencer in the cosplay space would be a smart move. Develop a deeper relationship here, and you’ll endear your brand to this segment of your audience even more.

After all, netnography reveals what consumers are interested in besides your brand or category. Why not pursue them in a creative manner? Here we can see some of the interests in the cosmetics space like pets, arts & crafts, literature and sports. Users with interests in anime and comics comprise 5% of the posts in the last thirty days.

507-netnographyIn this way, netnography allows you to develop relationships that you might not normally spot. Most cosmetics brands forge relationships with standard-issue beauty influencers. That’s fine and all – but getting cozy with an influencer that already has sway in an unrelated area of interest that your consumers engage in is next level. And you can take this approach across multiple ‘subcultures’ so you’re broadcasting in a more relatable manner. Think enhanced brand messaging.

Now that we have a broad overview let’s look at a few more use cases for netnography in business.

How are Brands, Businesses & Marketers Using Netnography?

Netnography isn’t just another internet buzzword but a legitimate methodology for researching consumers through the social media lens. It was initially developed by Robert Kozinets, a marketing professor, in 1995. It was first used to analyze online discussions in the Star Trek fandom. However, the business implications were immediately evident. Let’s explore some.

Brands

When it comes to your brand, it’s best to read the room before the room reads you. And that includes your branding itself. Times change, and with it, opinions, trends and perceptions shift along with them. Words themselves change meanings, develop new ones or fall out of use. That means even your slogans, hashtags, logos, and web copy are subject to a change in consumer perception.

Your brand could become outdated as society fluctuates. And sometimes, the changes are subtle and move at a glacial pace. Would demographic data capture insight into these social shifts?

Not really.

That means if you’re not seeing your brand how the consumer does, you’re in danger of slowly drifting into irrelevancy. Consumers want to spend their money with a brand that’s fresh, vibrant and exciting.

And that’s what netnography can help you with. It digs into the voice of the customer to find out exactly how different communities feel about your branding. And … you can have a discussion with them about it on their turf. It’s a two-for-one because you not only strengthen relationships with your consumers, but you also learn how to keep your brand in touch with the times.

Businesses

Netnography sheds light on almost every aspect of your business, no matter how large or how small. After all, consumers seem to have an inexhaustible supply of opinions. And collectively, those opinions move mountains.

Those opinions run the gamut of your supply chain, packaging, source materials, customer service, compliance with emerging trends, and whether the CEO sounded sleepy on the earnings call. Literally, anything they can find out about your business, they’ll talk about it online.

It’s a double-edged sword, really. On the one hand, the sheer volume of online conversations concerning your brand means you always have to have your guard up on every front. On the other side of the coin, these conversations are a gold mine of consumer intelligence. They help to understand what your customer is thinking so you can adjust to meet their needs, and their expectations.

Business moves at the speed of social, and there’s no going back. The one consolation is that every one of your competitors is in the same boat. But netnography gives your brand an edge if you have the discipline to use it to its full capacity.

Many businesses fail to fully grasp how their customers really feel about them. Netnography is the difference between hoping your messaging hits right versus holding a royal flush. Suppose you’ve gotten in the trenches with your consumers on various platforms and approached them according to their interests. In that case, it’s virtually impossible not to be well informed.

Ask them tough questions about your business. If you know that sustainability is a powerful emerging trend and your cosmetics company is lagging in that area, ask your consumers what you can do better. Get real with them. They have no reason not to be honest, and they’ll appreciate the fact that you cared enough to ask. And if they’re congregating in a small niche, they’ll be impressed you found them.

It’s not hard, though. Here we sorted our cosmetics analysis just for mentions of the environment, sustainability and ethical sourcing. That segment of cosmetics users is overwhelmingly congregating on Reddit and Tumblr.

507-cosmetics

Marketers

The implications of netnography on your marketing are colossal. That’s because your marketing is your brand voice. As such, it is at the most risk of running afoul of consumer perception. Your social media team is constantly creating messaging and interacting with consumers, so it’s absolutely critical that they keep their fingers to the pulse of consumer opinion.

Being seen as tone-deaf can be detrimental to your brand health. Because if your messaging runs askew, even unintentionally, your consumers could run for the doors. You are probably already keenly aware that brand loyalty is ultra-delicate these days. A heavy helping of netnography will help ensure that you’re not hitting foul balls with your messaging.

When crafting your social media posts or marketing campaigns, you want the richest consumer intelligence that you can get. There’s no such thing as too much information. Every little detail that unveils what’s going on behind the voice of the customer is fair game.

When you get on point with your marketing, it makes your brand look sophisticated. And that’s what you want. It’s a competitive advantage at that point as well. There’s just something about someone who knows the lingo and fits in. And it’s the same with brands. It’s that something extra that says you’ve done your homework and come prepared. Because you have.

Your competition might even be pretty good with its marketing. But going the extra mile and digging in deep to consumer perception brings that extra sparkle that sets top marketers apart from the rest. Netnography might sound funny, but it works – astonishingly well.

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples to see for yourself.

Netnography in Action – Driving Successful Business Outcomes

The Campbell Soup Company, or Campbell’s, was founded in 1869, making it 152 years old. Their iconic soup can is instantly recognizable and has become an American icon. Even so, they saw the potential benefits of netnography early on – and embraced it.

They were in the process of refining their online community, Campbell’s Kitchen, and found their surveys and focus groups weren’t quite providing the intel they wanted. They wanted to relaunch the community site and turned to netnography to better understand consumer behavior through social channels.

Researchers scoured forums, chatrooms, blogs for not only Campbell’s mentions but also those of competitors for conversations on meal plans and recipe sharing. They wanted the community to feel like a real kitchen where people would feel at home. Understand, netnography looks for deeper connections underlying conversations that can be used by the brand in their products, online communities, branding and marketing.

Using these conversations, they uncovered how moods affected what people wanted to eat. They also better understood how busy people needed help with less time-consuming recipes. Additionally, they learned how weight management and portion control were important to their consumers.

And with the right social listening tools, these types of conversations aren’t hard to find. Here’s a look at Campbell’s top mention attributes over the last three months. Quick and easy are noticeable themes but recipe substitutions lead the pack by a long shot.

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The researchers then presented their recommendations based on their findings. In response, Campbell’s revamped their Campbell’s Kitchen site and saw nearly immediate results. Their unique monthly visitors blew into the stratosphere in four months, going from 120,000 to over a million. That’s insane growth in a short amount of time and a testament to the effectiveness that netnography can contribute to your brand.

Yogurt maker, Yoplait, was able to successfully address an issue it saw known as mom-shaming. Mom-shaming is the colloquial term for bullying women on their choices as to how they raise their children. Yoplait created their “Mom On” campaign that specifically targeted the eye-roll-inducing commentary that moms endure daily.

They released a video on YouTube addressing the kinds of things that moms are sick of hearing. And it resonated with fans of the brand – and of course, the moms. The video is a shining example of how targeted you can get when you employ netnography to inform your efforts.

The video, which has received over 6 million views, acknowledges a pain point with a specific segment of their consumer base, and they absolutely loved it. The campaign generated a 1,461% rise in brand interest thanks to some smart netnographic social listening and relatable marketing.

Are you ready to take your brand’s social listening to the next level? Reach out for a demo, and we’ll show you how netnography can transform your consumer intelligence.

2021 state of social report

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