I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the world’s biggest brands as they begin to incorporate consumer insights from social media into their market research. These companies have traditionally relied on a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques conducted in parallel or serially, such as focus groups, surveys, interviews and ethnographies. These techniques rely on the direct observance of human behavior. While effective as standalone entities, each approach is subject to bias, and the triangulation process to combine results into one comprehensive output is costly and time-intensive.

Now, with blogs, forums, social networks and the plethora of information posted in social media, data on consumer sentiment and opinion is readily available. Companies don’t need to resort to expensive and time-consuming techniques to find out what consumers are thinking. They just need a way to efficiently collect and analyze that raw data from the Internet.

Enter netnography, which uses the Internet as a proxy for the voice of the customer.

Netnography is the process of accessing and analyzing sentiments and opinions expressed by consumers chatting in blogs, forums and online discussion groups. It’s ethnography done via the Internet. You can download a paper on the subject authored by Rob Kozinets, the university professor who is the “father of netnography”.

Using netnography, major companies can conduct research to identify the most frequently mentioned consumer opinions pertaining to their products and marketing methods with a much quicker turnaround time, cheaper price tag, and results that are arguably more authentic expressions of opinion and need.

The sooner companies realize this and begin to use netnography, the sooner they’ll begin saving themselves millions of dollars and end up with better, more relevant information to boot.

Starting the triangulation process with netnography, which is cheap and fast, can save companies time and money and help them determine what their next research steps should be.

A netnographic study can be a very valuable first step in a larger research program and the first corner point in the process of triangulating research to reach valid conclusions. Performing a netnographic study before launching into more expensive and time-consuming methods can expedite the research cycle by providing researchers with preliminary information that enables them to immediately dive into more focused and valuable tasks. What’s more, doing a netnography as a first step allows companies to streamline their research efforts and get more significant results out of the more resource-intensive phases.

The take-away message–Using netnography, researchers and decision-makers can now quickly and cheaply check on whether an idea presented to them will resonate with consumers–before spending any further time or money on it. Doing netnography first as the first step in the process of triangulation gives them a quick and accurate read on where to direct their future research and marketing efforts.

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