The basis for netnography
Consumers making lifestyle, product and brand choices are increasingly turning to computer-mediated communication for information on which to base their decisions. Besides perusing advertising and corporate websites, consumers are using virtual communities and other online social sharing formats to share ideas and contact fellow consumers who are seen as more objective information sources. The freely expressed opinion of individuals on the social web provides researchers with data coming from thousands of individuals behaving freely. It also allows researchers to keep record of these interactions, quantify changes over time, and perform insightful analysis using a variety of tools and methods.
The study of communication patterns and content between/within these social groups on the Internet is one method of netnographic analysis. These social groups are popularly referred to as "virtual communities" (Rheingold 1993). However, as stated by Jones (1995), the term "virtual" might misleadingly imply that these communities are less "real" than physical communities. Yet as Kozinets (1998, p. 366) pointed out, "these social groups have a 'real' existence for their participants, and thus have consequential effects on many aspects of behaviour, including consumer behavior" (see also Muniz and O'Guinn 2001).
Individuals participating in these "virtual communities" often share in-depth insight on themselves, their lifestyles, and the reasons behind the choices they make as consumers (brands, products etc.) The knowledge exchanged within these public communities is often commercially valuable, as it can help companies develop better marketing strategies, help identify industry trends or candidates for employment, or help product engineers improve their products. Not surprisingly, since these communities often include attempts to inform and influence fellow consumers about products and brands (Handaa 1999, Muniz and O'Guinn 2001), and since one major factor influencing positive brand equity for one brand over another is consumer advocacy (Almquist and Roberts, 2000), commercial firms are often very interested in determining the level and nature of conversation around their brands and products, and looking for methods to influence those conversations.
 Sample netnographic analysis
Below are listed four different types of online community from a netnographic analysis by Kozinets (see Kozinets ref. below for more detail). Even though the technologies, and the use of these technologies within culture, is evolving over time, the insights below have been included here in order to show an example of what a market-oriented "netnography" looked like:
- bulletin boards, which function as electronic bulletin boards (also called newsgroups, usegroups, or usenet groups). These are often organized around particular products, services or lifestyles, each of which may have important uses and implications for marketing researchers interested in particular consumer topics (e.g., McDonalds, Sony Playstation, beer, travel to Europe, skiing). Many consumer-oriented newsgroups have over 100,000 readers, and some have over one million (Reid 1995).
- Independent web pages as well as web-rings composed of thematically-linked World Wide Web pages. Web-pages such as epinions ([www.epinions.com]) provide online community resources for consumer-to-consumer exchanges. Yahoo!'s consumer advocacy listings also provide useful listing of independent consumer web-pages. Yahoo! also has an excellent directory of web-rings ([www.dir.webring.yahoo.com]).
- lists (also called listservs, after thesoftware program), which are e-mail mailing lists united by common themes (e.g., art, diet, music, professions, toys, educational services, hobbies). Some good search engines of lists are [www.egroups.com] and [www.liszt.com].
- multi-user dungeons and chat rooms tend to be considerably less market-oriented in their focus, containing information that is often fantasy-oriented, social, sexual and relational in nature. General search engines (e.g., Yahoo! or excite) provide good directories of these communities. Dungeons and chat rooms may still be of interest to marketing researchers (see, e.g., White 1999) because of their ability to provide insight into particular themes (e.g., certain industry, demographic or lifestyle segments). However, many marketing researchers will find the generally more focused and more information-laden content provided by the members of boards, rings and lists to be more useful to their investigation than the more social information present in dungeons and chat rooms.
 Netnography process
Netnography follows six overlapping steps: 1. Research Planning 2. Entrée 3. Data Collection 4. Interpretation 5. Ensuring ethical standards 6. Research representation (Kozinets, 2010)