Digital Ethnography 101 : Everything you need to know

3 min readNov 22, 2022


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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 for Digital 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.


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