Research techniques for Online Ethnography

A method originating in anthropology, ethnography combines observational and interviewing techniques. This is not wholly unique in qualitative research, but it is noteworthy: other methods selectively focus on communication or behavior.  By combining the two, ethnography both broadens and validates insight. Social theory is often prominent in analysis, though the type (or types) a study uses is at the discretion of the researcher. Market research particularly emphasizes actionable data, and ethnographers must be careful to keep all findings pertinent and verifiable. A great way to accomplish this is to use online ethnography for the many benefits it offers researchers.

Research Depth

Analysis is at the heart of ethnography. Researchers typically use a systematic approach to chart anomalies and interesting cases. As such, ethnography often features a wide representation of target and potential markets. While a broad sampling is useful, ethnography is also appropriate for follow-ups and other study techniques that pertain to select targets.

Ethnography is useful for charting participants’ experience in a regular environment, such as a home or workplace. Variables should always enter consideration. Time of day, presence of others, or physical environment all can affect how participants use or perceive brands, products, etc.    

Benefits to using Online Ethnography

Traditional ethnography is both time-consuming and expensive. Researchers must dedicate significant time to logistics and correspondence. Markets, meanwhile, are changing at an unprecedented rate and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Technological advances like true HD video streaming make online techniques, such as online ethnography, far more feasible. There are several benefits to using online ethnography techniques when conducting research.

Minimal Intrusion

Experienced researchers are well aware any intrusion into the subject’s natural setting can affect the outcome. Ironic, then, that traditional ethnography requires the physical presence of a researcher and video crew. Online ethnography techniques minimize this presence, helping participants more accurately portray their daily activities and outlooks.


Traditional ethnography requires both the presence of a researcher and a video team. Depending on the project’s scale, researchers must also consider travel and lodging expenses. Online ethnography, specifically using online channels, allow ethnographers to more easily interact with participants, eliminate the need for travel, and typically use streaming footage from a webcam or smartphone.  

Study Duration

Participant willingness and budget, traditionally, are the two barriers to prolonged ethnographic research. Further, participants may begin altering their daily behavior if researchers are present for a sustained amount of time. Online ethnography techniques minimize presence, increasing the pool of respondents willing to participate and reducing the effect research has on their behavior and outlooks.

Better Inclusion

Traditionally, teams that conduct ethnographic research divide between those in the field and those in the office. This impedes participation, as well delays analysis and processing. Platforms customized for qualitative research, such as online ethnography, allow the entire team to observe, communicate, and analyze footage in real-time.

Participant Variety

Generally speaking, few people are open to making room for researchers in their homes or workplace. Further, the more regional variation traditional ethnography requires, the more expensive it becomes. Tapping into vast respondent pools from all over the globe, using online ethnography techniques drastically increase variety while decreasing overhead.       

Online Ethnography and Agility

Online techniques also increase ethnography’s compatibility with market research. Agile methods, known for iterative processing and customer-centered design, are commonly at the forefront of product development. Along with being expensive, traditional ethnography progresses at a much slower pace than modern production. Online ethnography not only enhances the method, but also delivers insight within a relevant timeframe. Learn more about online ethnography by chatting with us or trying the demo.     

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