On entering the field, Kozinets (2010:75) advocates a participative approach, suggesting that a passive, observational netnography which ‘removes the opportunity to experience embedded cultural understanding’ will have a negative impact on the subsequent interpretation.
Entering the site intending to play the dual role of active member of the community and researcher requires meticulous forethought and preparation. You need to know precisely what you’re looking for, the different techniques you’ll use to gather your data and have addressed the considerable ethical issues you’ll face. Kozinets (2010:76) illustrates how easy it is to inadvertently blunder into an online community, generate misunderstanding or cause offence and have rendered any hope of being accepted by the community lost. The entrée then is crucial and preparation needs to be careful and considered. Choosing to mask your intent by extracting data anonymously or even using a different persona are of course possible, but at the very best, ethically questionable. You need to carefully plan how you will introduce yourself as a researcher, what form that will take and when, within the entrée, that will occur.
Relating this to my study raises a few questions, since I am not approaching the community fresh and have been an active participant for some while. As a consequence, I’m already to a large extent encultured which of course is a double-edged sword. I already have some understanding of the norms, values and behaviours within the field site (and perhaps some credibility?), and this might enable me to swiftly identify areas capable of informing my research questions. However the potential exists that I might be blind to elements which a fresh pair of eyes might spot, or have preformed ideas which distort my observations.
Secondly, my role within the community and potentially the way I am perceived is about to change when I become a researcher. How I negotiate that transition will need carefully crafting in order to avoid the loss of any social capital I may have built up; capital I may subsequently need, to enlist the co-operation of people with whom I’m connected.
My intention is to be as open as possible starting with editing my Twitter profile to reflect the change in status and role. I’ll also link through to this blog, instead of my original long-standing one so that anyone can read my thoughts, reflections, plans and intents. I need to compose a page which summarises the research in an easily digestible form; a distilled version of my research proposal perhaps. There needs to be a bold invitation to ask questions, raise concerns or provide feedback about the research and a clear section on the ethical issues I perceive and how I intend to address them. When I’m comfortable that I’ve prepared as much as possible, I’ll write a post or page that briefly explains how I’ve come to this point and what my aspirations are, then tweet out an invitation to read it and view this blog. One technique Kozinets (2010:107) found useful in eliciting netnographic data was through communal interaction in which he posted research and information relevant and of interest to the community he had entered. He also offered up a ‘cyber-interview’ which integrated his research questions into the topic of interest to the community. [An interesting approach, about which I’ll need to think further]
Well they’re my initial thoughts; doubtless they’ll be refined and updated as things progress … but at least it will be in the open.
Kozinets, R.V., 2009. Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. SAGE.