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Tips and Tricks for Digital Ethnographies

Woman on laptop

We describe digital ethnographies as research used to observe and capture people’s behavior and thoughts facilitated by online tools in a digital “space”. The ethnography consists of self-recorded events via text, photos and video that capture rich, real-time observations as things happen naturally, often giving us access to otherwise inaccessible aspects of a person’s life.

Over the years digital research methodologies have become more popular and lately we are seeing a big spike in interest given the current public health restrictions that limit the feasibility of in-person methodologies. We’ve used digital ethnographies to connect with customers for nearly a decade and, during that time, have learned a lot that we are happy to share.

Well-designed exercises are the foundation:

  • Begin the study with an easy and fun warm-up exercise to help consumers get used to interacting with the digital platform.
  • Keep consumers engaged each day by including a daily diary question.
  • Don’t overload the exercises with too many questions or tasks – keep it simple for the best responses.

Digital Ethnographies are not set it and forget it:

  • Exercises are asynchronous and can be completed on the consumer’s schedule, but responses should be reviewed and moderated by the research team.
  • Moderators should check responses throughout the study (throughout the day, if possible) to thank and encourage participants and ask follow-up questions.
  • Include moderator videos to put a face to the study and make it clear there are real people on the other side interested in what they have to say.

Getting the right people is key:

  • Set appropriate expectations for how much time will be required and keep the platform open for at least 10 days to allow for completion.
  • Have a plan in place for managing participation – clarify upfront if this falls on the research team or your recruiting partner.
  • Include a generous over-recruit to ensure you get the number of responses needed.

Choose the right digital platform:

  • Consider the types of exercises supported – if you need a journal, ideation, surveys or community boards, make sure the provider can accommodate.
  • Test the platform first to get a feel for the overall user experience and the devices supported.
  • Clarify what the pricing includes such as length of time you have access to the platform, level of technical support, or asset storage capacity.


Reach out if you have questions or want to learn more. You can also check out a recent webinar we delivered on the topic for the Insights Association.

Jennifer Cuthill

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