When you reach a significant number of online followers, you may want to motivate them for some reason, such as signing up for a newsletter, supporting a political candidate, or donating money to a cause. The emerging field of virtual ethnography, also known as netnography, can help you motivate your followers.
NOTE: This is an emerging field with some controversy. The goal of the article is to introduce you to the field.
How to Study Your Online Followers
“Netnography” (or virtual ethnography) has been occurring since the 1980s. The groundbreaking work of Robert Kozinets and Christine Hines have outlined how researchers can conduct data gathering and analysis of online communities dedicated to specific topics. As a research method, “netnography” is faster, simpler, and cheaper than traditional ethnography, where a researcher tries to become fully immersed into an environment.
In many ways, netnography is more natural and unobtrusive than many other direct data collection methods, such as depth interviews, lab-based usability testing, and focus groups. A researcher becomes immersed in the online dialogues within a chat room, a board, or social media event.
In some respects, you may already be doing virtual ethnography when you ask a question or create a survey to your own followers. You can interactively ask questions to get more feedback or read what the audience posts, blogs, or tweets. Data collection tools are abundant now. You just need to gather the data, and then analyze it.
Four Categories of Online Followers
After you collect the data, you can group responses based upon how you classify your audience. As early as 1999, Robert Kozinets presented some interesting personas for people that post messages in chat rooms and online forums. Kozinets developed these online personas based upon two factors:
- Consumption—what activities you do with this community
- Group Ties—your level of involvement with the community
According to Kozinets research, you can classify your online followers into four categories:
- “Newbies” have low consumption and weak community ties
- “Minglers” have minimal interest in the activities, but strong community ties.
- “Devotees” are very interested in the activities, but they have weak community ties.
- “Insiders” have strong ties to the online group and to the activity. Insiders have a strong standing within the online group and they are frequently referenced.
The Importance of Devotees and Insiders
Clearly, the Devotees and the Insiders represent the most important data sources, as they are dedicated, enthusiastic, committed, and engaged. Devotees and Insiders can help you market, plan, and organize your activities. In addition, you will probably support their causes, as you are probably like-minded.
Devotees will share their ideas with you. They will get connected to you. Devotees will give you suggestions for events, partners, speakers, sponsors, surveys, and content. Devotees are potential Insiders, too. You want to gauge their willingness to help you plan your activities and events.
Insiders are already well connected to the activity and people. You want to partner with Insiders. You want to keep them dedicated and enthusiastic by challenging them to come up with ideas. Insiders will interact and organize. Insiders simply get things done. No one can work alone. You need to identify your Insiders to see what they want and what they think other want.
How to Handle Minglers
Minglers are important because of their interests in networking and socializing. Minglers want to help educate Newbies, meet new friends, and network professionally. They shoot video, tweet, take pictures, greet people, ask questions, take surveys, and introduce you to other people.
You might want to find a Super Mingler, which is a person that is networked within your specific community. The Super Mingler gets you introduced to potential business partners, socially influential people, or sponsors for whatever your cause (political, social, professional). Simply put, Super Minglers are super-connected.
How to Handle Newbies
When you encounter Newbies, you need to determine if they are interested in the activity, people, or both. If they are interested in the activity, you want to point them to sources of information, answer their questions, suggest newsletters subscriptions, and get them information about the activity.
Some Newbies may only be interested in networking and socializing. You want to introduce them to the Minglers in your audience, who naturally want to meet people. You want to provide networking opportunities for Newbies, such as professional organizations, recommended people to follow, suggested blogs to read, specific meeting times (e.g. Mobile Mondays), or networking events (e.g. Meet-n-Tweet).
Some Newbies actually act more like Tourists. These Newbies want to check out the people and the content. They are asking two primary questions:
- Do these people interest me?
- Does this content (or activity) interest me?
Tourists will either gravitate towards greater involvement with people or the activity. If they are not interested, Tourists leave your community.
You are probably already performing virtual ethnography. When you do collect information from others online, classify your followers into groups (Newbies, Minglers, Devotees, Insiders). You can engage these diverse audiences more effectively by determining whether someone wants content, community, or both.
Devotees and Insiders are already motivated and engaged. When you figure out how to “upgrade” Newbies and Minglers, you will have learned how to motivate your online followers. Plus, you will learn things you did not expect, too.
- Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Ingredient (technologyreview.in)