Over the past several years, humanity has witnessed one of the largest migrations in our short time on this planet. The result is a widely dispersed population with families and communities spread around the world. Unlike previous times in our history, these communities of migrants (diaspora) are able to stay connected through modern technologies; the internet and social media.
Social media services like Facebook, Reddit, WeChat and other online forums enable families and people to remain more connected to their home countries and cultures like never before. Such technologies have enabled cultural groups that had become disconnected in centuries and decades past, to re-connect. Descendants to learn more of their ancestry and find relatives and explore the culture of their descendants and eventually for some, to reconnect with their ancestral homelands.
What is Digital Diaspora?
Essentially, digital diaspora are groups and individuals that may have migrated from one country to another either very recently or over centuries. Such as those of Welsh or Scottish descent who spread around the world over hundreds of years ago and now seek to explore their roots and find meaning, culturally and socially.
When it comes to digital diaspora, they are recent or perhaps third or fourth generation people who can connect, via digital channels with communities from their original ancestral homes. They find Facebook Groups, Reddit groups, online forums and perhaps Twitter or other social media places where they can explore their heritage and organize into cultural groups. They often also find local groups where they live that they can join to find inspiration and form new relationships.
The Role and Benefits of Netnography
The process of Netnography comes from the anthropological scientific process of studying people and cultures in their original places known as ethnography. An anthropologist for example, might visit a community in a far-way place from their origins such as Papua New Guinea (a beloved place for anthropologists for centuries due to its rich and diverse cultures) or in Latin America. An anthropologist would embed themselves in these communities and spend years and sometimes decades, studying these cultures to learn their language, norms and behaviours.
Netnography takes this process and applies a system of ethics and process to learn about how communities of people come together and organize and behave in digital spaces. Understanding where, how and why cultures and communities connect in digital channels can be of commercial benefit to brands developing digital strategies of engagement, creative ideas for integrated traditional and digital campaigns, for IGO’s such as the UN to help in crises situations or various cultural groups in countries to find diaspora to re-engage for tourism or economic interests.
Netnographic research is passive and observatory and largely quantitative rather than qualitative in nature. While some hard data can be collected and analysed it is more focused on understanding how digital diaspora connect and how they can be engaged with. Such research can help in defining how to engage with these diaspora communities and avoid mistakes in messaging and strategies.
In our netnographic research work, we’ve helped brands in a home country connect and effectively engage diaspora in other countries to grow export sales and build online communities. In other instances, to engage for business development and cultural exchanges. In other instances, this cultural research has helped brands to launch multi-national marketing campaigns in digital channels more effectively.