Nov 22, 2022 • 5 min read

Digital Ethnography 101 : Everything you need to know

North Face sent a team of researchers on hikes and treks with travelers and explorers to help the brand figure out the correct placements for pockets.

Smart move? Time waste? Publicity? Research?

Through these little observations, North face has established themselves as one of the most reliable adventure clothing brands, despite the costly price tag.

These days brands have a dedicated team of qualified researchers that study consumer behavior - from observing your shopping patterns to studying the practice in which you prepare your meals, they do it all.

This method is called Ethnography.

This was used by anthropologists for decades but recently made its mark in the corporate world. Lego, Google, Samsung, ReD are some brands that follow this approach to study their customer base and meet their demands.

What is Digital Ethnography?

Digital ethnography, also known as Online Ethnography or Mobile Ethnography leverages the power of smartphones, video, and computers to help Researchers remotely generate rich, contextual insights into human needs, emotions, behaviors, journeys, and experiences. (

Why is Digital Ethnography important?

Let us say you are a brand that promotes menstrual hygiene and sells menstrual cups. You have plateaued your sales in urban areas and now are looking to tap into the rural segment. Topics like Menstruation are still taboo in rural areas. In this case, how will you cater to them in a way that is not offensive?

Through Digital Ethnography- Fast, Flexible, and Factual. Especially during covid times when rural people may be reluctant to meet, you can draw solid conclusions through remote research. Digital Ethnography has been a powerful tool to decode consumer psychology as it helps validate what customers do and why they do it ( all without the hassle of unnecessary commute and hours of compiling paperwork )

It encapsulates a variety of true-to-life data collection techniques. This could be conducted in a mobile or an online condition in multitudes of situations ranging from consumer behavior to product innovation.

Traditional Ethnography Vs. Digital Ethnography

Ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subject of the study, Digital Ethnography does exactly the same thing but with the help of online tools.

What is the process foDigital Ethnography?

The process of Digital Ethnography is quite alike to a monetized Focus Group Discussion or an Interview wherein you can incentivize the research participants with specific goals in mind. The whole point of this is to let the audience answer without any assistance or direction from the researcher. It can be conducted in the following forms:

  1. Participant Observation
  2. Survey
  3. Questionnaire
  4. Interview

The respondents and participants would be using digital devices to record audio, text, and video to show you and tell you what they are doing, feeling, and thinking at their own pace.

Be it blogging or videography, digital ethnography can be leveraged anyhow. Since it is a very fun approach to research, both the researcher and the participant is fully engaged throughout the process which in turn helps you gauge a perfect outcome.

The sequence of activities is not interconnected and all activities are available at once. The objective is to seize the occasion. That is why a participant can resume day-to-day activities while still managing to participate in the research and be discrete about it!

Once data collection is done, the researcher can gather those insights and connect the dots.

Why should you consider Digital Ethnography?

I remember watching the movie Abyss when I was a child and imagining truckloads of possibilities that the future may bring. Although we did not get to see any alien invasion yet, we sure saw some head-turning technology that is indispensable to us now. It is the world of digital evolution, the world we are currently living in.

The way we live, work, and talk has all changed drastically in the past few decades. With the help of mobile devices, Anthropologists and Researchers can delve into the life of the respondents remotely.

1) Independence

The great part about Digital Ethnography is the independence that comes with it. The participants use their devices, go about at their own pace, there is no need for any third-party involvement. This independence encourages participants to be as truthful as possible. A person may be hesitant to put forward his views in front of 10 people on a microphone, but he would not shy away from sending a voice note about his findings privately.

2) No Geographical Limitations

As there is no need for a physical meeting, Researchers can leverage Digital Ethnography to conduct research beyond any geographical boundaries. It not only makes the process easier but also saves a ton of your resources. This also allows you to reiterate your strategy if the data seems unfit to you without any hassle!

3) Real-time Data

The best part of Digital Ethnography is that you can access data in real time as they communicate with your offerings. Since all the data is automated and recorded digitally, there is no need for you to sift through heaps of paperwork to get insights.

4) User Experience

A good user experience can help create that important first impression that makes your audience content with their decision to be a part of your research. Digital Ethnography ensures a holistic user experience that delights the user and engages him/her at every step.

5) Resource-effective

With Digital Ethnography, The researcher ends up saving tons of resources like money, time, and energy. This is made possible through the miracle of technology combined with a fruitful user experience, all without even being present in the same room. These additional expenses like fuel, parking, and lodging can be saved and attributed to strengthen and validate the research.

6) Pandemic-complaint

The pandemic has truly changed the way we function and that also includes the way we conduct research. Due to this, there are many forms of research that may be conducted remotely for a long time, especially in the field of healthcare. Digital Ethnography also is a great way to be pandemic compliant and stay safe from the deadly virus!

Intel as the world's biggest brand Ethnographer!

Intel has hired anthropologists and researchers on staff to gauge a thorough understanding of its audience base. This helps them innovate seamlessly and keep up with all the industrial trends.

Intel is no stranger to this practice, in fact - Intel has been leveraging ethnography since the mid-1990s. This has led Intel to gain access to a plethora of insightful information on consumer behavior. Since Digital Ethnographers have a wide range of audiences they want to research on, ranging from Gen-Z who are well acquainted with how technology works to boomers who may have limited knowledge of how the internet works, they are able to get a bigger picture through means of observation.

Through innovation and digital ethnography, Intel was able to produce a handheld notebook PC. This concept was based on the way children carry pens and notebooks around the classroom. A simpler and high-tech product that is fast, flexible, and fun to reflect their audience's real-life behavior and requirement.

Digital Ethnography is used for strategizing and planning how to leverage technology to the fullest. Intel discovers using ethnographic research how prompt the boomers are at fully adopting digitalization and their inputs on whether smartphones are replacing PCs.

Intel has discovered cutting-edge insights from digital ethnography and is now the world’s biggest corporate ethnographer!

Intel elucidates that ethnography is a part of its long-term planning as well as strategy. It is an essential part of its engineering research function. The brand says that this is important to adapt to the ever-changing technology.

Digital Ethnography Best Practices

1) Ethnographers must be ethical and unbiased in their findings

Represent yourself and your ethics in an appropriate way and do not let bias dictate the outcome. Let the community or individual know that you are in it for them so they can engage with full force. A respondent may or may not choose to reveal his identity. It is your responsibility to make anonymity a priority if the respondent asks. Make sure to only use the material that you have permission for. These practices will not just help you get a better outcome but would highlight your professionalism as well.

2) Research Communities

Your community should be rich in resources like Blogs, Facebook Pages, Forums, Discussion boards, Youtube Channels, etc. These communities should also be participative and engaging. If someone has not posted for over 2 weeks, it's time for you to reconsider and switch your community of choice. The communities should have a good following that keeps up to date in terms of engagement.

3) Seek Only Necessary Information

Make a checklist of what is important (in the form of a hierarchy) and take it as a guide to your desired outcome. A sample checklist could be ➖

  1. Demographics
  2. History of the Community
  3. Social Controls
  4. Social Motivations
  5. Language
  6. Avatars
  7. Subgroups

All well that ends well….

Considering the benefits and advantages of Digital Ethnography, It is not going anywhere in the near future. In fact, I firmly believe that it is going to open doors of opportunities for brands that are lost or sidetracked from their goals.

Digital Ethnography can offer you the liberty to deep dive into your audience’s mind to decipher how you can mold your offerings in a way that entices them. As use cases continue to grow, Brands, Designers, and Researchers are leveraging the benefits of this approach.

Is it useful? Is it just a gimmick? What do you think? Let us know on our socials!’

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Until then, Stay tuned for our next blog! Ciao! 🙂