A netnographic exploration of online consumer conversations

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A Netnographic Exploration
Listening to Oniine Consumer Conversations

RAMA K. JAYANTI Cleveland State University r.jayanti@csuohio.edu

Consumer conversations on a health-related electronic bulletin board are analyzed to investigate two key processes instrumental to creativity: analogical reasoning and reflective reframing. A netnographic analysis of these two creative strategies revealedtwo consistent themes of physician partnership and personal outcomes. To study the implications of these two themes for hospital communications, a content analysis of 40 comprehensive cancer-center Web sites was conducted. The results demonstrate a gap: although patients in online conversations emphasize physician partnership and personal outcomes, the majority of hospital communications emphasizereputation, expertise, and compassion. Strategic recommendations grounded in consumer conversations conclude the article.


Consumers are in the midst of a conversation that isn't ours. The race is on to grow ears to learn what they are saying... listening in today's world is the most powerful selling tool because people want to be heard. Marketing needs to be a dialogue not amonologue.

— John Hayes, CMO, American Express (2009) Online consumer conversations are reshaping consumer connectivity, revolutionizing the conventional one-way communication marketing models (Neff, 2009). As American Express' chief marketing officer indicates, social networking has allowed consumers to increasingly turn to each other for product information and recommendations, wrestling controlof brands away from marketers. A global Nielsen study found that consumer recommendations are the most trusted form of advertising (Nielsen Co., 2007). Consumers now view the Internet as a trusted third party that can be a valuable source of information for many product purchases. Ninety percent have used an Internet search engine to research a product or service (Fox, 2005). DOI:10.2501/S0021849910091348

Owing to their untainted, unfiltered, and unbiased nature, online consumer conversations have the potential to help marketers discover the right questions for supplemental research and to understand emerging issues, follow brand sentiment, benchmark companies against major competitors, detect damaging issues or rumors, spur product development, gather product suggestions, anddiscover alternate uses and enhancements volunteered by consumers (Vittal, 2009). Much recent research advocates strategic harnessing of marketplace imagination by facilitating the process of idea generation by monitoring relevant social networks (Erevelles, Roundtree, Zinkhan, and Fukawa, 2008). The current study examines consumer conversations on an online health blog using a netnographic methodologyto draw implications for hospital marketing communications. A netnographic methodology is a "qualitative, interpretive, research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to the study of the online cultures and communities formed through computer-mediated communications" (Jupp, 2006).

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The health care industry has undergone significant changes in recent years. Rising consumer activism is evident in every aspect of health care, from clinical trials to participatory decision making with physicians and hospitals. This trend has become more evident in hospital choice as patients exert more influence on the traditional referral role of physicians(Petromilli and Michalczyk, 1999). The significance of this new order is reflected in hospitals' advertising expenditures, which doubled from $493 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion in 2008 (Newman, 2009). Much hospital advertising historically has centered on suitability (Fisher and Anderson, 1990; McCullough and Dodge, 2002), with institutional tones about how doctors ("skilled") and nurses ("caring")...