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Digital Ethnography: qualitative research technique evaluates users in the online environment

Digital transformation has changed the consumer journey in its essence. Today, the user doesn’t buy a product or hire services without seeking references and tutorials on the internet.

In this context, digital ethnography, or netnography, appears as an evolution of qualitative research, supporting projects centered on the end-user or the development of analytical reports.

It is important to emphasize that academia uses different terminologies for ethnography in digital media


Neologism created in the late ’90s (net + ethnography) to demarcate the ethnographic method adaptations in relation to both data collection and analysis, as well as research ethics. Related to communication studies with approaches to consumption, marketing, and studies of fan communities. (…)

Digital ethnography

Explore and expand the possibilities of virtual ethnography through the constant use of digital media, posting the material collected. Another objective is the creation of collaborative audiovisual narratives in a language that serves as study material but also reaches an extra-academic audience.


Some authors use it as a term related to applied internet marketing research, related to the question of metrics and audiences of the sites, mainly in discussion environments (…) Like netnography, webnography is also used for research academic and marketing.


(…) It is based on the concepts of Donna Haraway’s cyborg anthropology to examine the technological reconstruction of man and prepare the ethnographer to deal with a broader category of “human being” in his reconfigurations.

Source: (FRAGOSO, S.; RECUERO, R; AMARAL, A. Métodos de pesquisa para internet. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2011)

How Digital Ethnography Works

This qualitative research technique is both observational and interactive because it focuses on and records the nuances of interpersonal behavior in the online environment.

Based on the combination of two research approaches – measurement and understanding – digital ethnography registers the navigation conduct of a pre-selected group of users in digital spaces and applies to this sample a series of structured questions, in the form of chats, moderated by professional qualitative research.

Why make use of this qualitative research technique

With digital ethnography, the observation goes beyond the conventional: the evaluations about user’s habits and customs are done in a participatory way. The Internet user can interact with the brand or respond to online ads, related to hotsites aimed at specific profiles.

The ethnographer* immerses himself in specific groups and observes the practices and experiences of his public. From the analysis of the data collected during the research, it is possible to obtain valuable information about the user, leading to the development of projects in synergy with their online behavior. 

This is possible as the researcher maps thinking standards about the same object perceives standards and the differences and similarities between the user’s behavior. Then, outlines an ideal profile for creating personas. And with the analyzes at hand, it is easier to provide insights for the prototyping of products and/or services more focused on the desires raised.

*ethnographer – scholar or specialist in ethnography

Monitoring digital spaces

Search for information on the Internet can be more complex than you think: analyzing metrics of words, and other forms of searching, doesn’t define profiles. Digital monitoring is enhanced, based on the act of “listening to the public” in its own environment of interest.

By interacting in an engaging way, the ethnographer is able to extract more from the users’ particularities, mapping and segmenting real personas to direct business.

Knowing better the user: the role of networks

User’s online behavior usually reflects your deepest desires and can define their interests – both online and offline.

Understanding the mobile-first experience, the determining factors to buy or search for information, where to sail and how to behave in these virtual environments, helps in generating insights to offer value projects in both segments (online and offline).

Different social medias used – professional, relationship, corporate, community, political – support the exchange of information.

It is in this space that we can perceive the users’ demand for more agile and practical solutions. By empowering the user himself, networks break paradigms in forming new thoughts, engaging and transforming their relationship with brands.

Digital ethnography in practice: brands bet on qualitative research to know the user

A company in the cosmetics business created a specific virtual environment to know the Internet users’ behavior interested in a particular product. From a landing page registration, users exchanged usage experiences, personal needs, and desires, monitored by a specialized search professional.

Knowing the user via digital search in loco, was quite enriching. For users, interaction with the “fictious corporate employee” has generated authority for the brand. As for the company, feedback about the product provided rich insights, which allowed to change the color, texture and format of the product to meet consumer demand.

User behavior in favor of trademarks

Navigation metrics confirm the presence of social medias in the construction of relationships, personal and corporate. The navigation metrics confirm the presence of the networks in the construction of relationships, personal and corporate. At each launch, or for each existing product or service, an interactive channel, within the networks themselves, is created to determine how the customer perceives what is consuming, his doubts and challenges, what he would like to modify: packaging, flavor, texture, color, etc.

Virtual opinion surveys are constant to fully enhance or modify a product or service. And when consumers themselves realize that they were responsible for these transformations, monitoring gains more prestige.

The applied methodology allows us to understand that current products consumption and media are impacted on both fronts (online and offline): new options for purchase, entertainment and even work and increased income are opened by the digital world, interfering in the communication actions of the analog environment.

Want to understand more deeply how Digital Ethnography can positively impact your business strategies?

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