Caught in a net: Opportunities and Challenges of a Netnographic Study


  • Madeleine Stevens Liverpool John Moores University
  • Terri McGarry



Netnographic study, digital research, online communities


This paper reports on the opportunities and challenges associated with the use of the qualitative methodology of netnography, an interpretative method which represents a written description of fieldwork emerging from on-line or computer mediated data. Specifically, a humanist netnography which focussed on answering research questions connected with deep social values with the aim to influence social change within the context of business and management research was applied. Over the course of 26 months, a total of 2033 comments from a bespoke, in-house social media monitoring tool were analysed and ratified through triangulation with 107 posts from an engagement survey. The data was captured within an automation and engineering organisation in the private sector in England.   The context of the study was to use netnographic research to explore the impact on employees subjected to the implementation of multiple, consecutive redundancy programmes. The aim was to understand areas of concern for employee wellbeing and identify opportunities to improve the redundancy implementation strategy. Humanist netnography was applied to allow a specific focus on the culture of the community within the organisational setting, and the emotions experienced amongst employees within this community. The findings highlight that netnograhic research can offer rich and meaningful data when used in a controlled, digital environment for organisations as well as for academic research.  This study discusses the opportunities associated with netnography and how the use of in-house bespoke social media monitoring tools can help drive and improve organisational effectiveness. In addition, this paper identifies challenges associated with the use of netnography such as the little perceived value of emoticons defined as symbolic netnography, as real meaning were found in the expressed words. Concerns with respect to ethical considerations and protecting individual participants when using netnographic data are discussed.