What is Social Netnography?

Social netnography is a novel research method that analyzes the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of individuals on the Internet.16 There is a growing number of social media users worldwide,17 and social netnography will become an increasingly important methodological tool, especially as it has a number of advantages over traditional qualitative methods such as focus groups and in-depth interviews. For example, by collecting and analyzing passively collected social media data, social netnography allows for content classification similar to that obtained during traditional methods, but without introducing observation bias (i.e., Hawthorne effect).18 This leads to analyses of unfiltered conversations free from the inherent biases of focus group leaders and interviewers. Social netnography also allows for collection of large amounts of data on a scale that far surpasses sample sizes from focus groups and individual cognitive interviews. In short, social netnography is akin to a large-scale virtual focus group not bound by physical locale and not subject to the Hawthorne effect.

The technique is now widely used across healthcare. For example, it has been used for patient recruitment for clinical trials,19 measurement of consumer sentiment,20 patient education,21 formation of patient affinity groups,19 patient monitoring, management of patient care, and epidemiological research.20, 21 Given the success of social netnography outside of gastroenterology, it is reasonable to assume the technique can also provide meaningful insights within gastroenterology, particularly in patients with IBD who frequently exchange notes on social media sites.