Social Media Strategies – Ethnography and Marketing – Part 3

A quick recap…

In the previous part of this 3-parter post, I was thinking about how the Long Tail can be adapted by museums to think about their use of social media; as a tool for increasing access to objects and buildings, as a tool for personalisation of communication with users, and as a tool for user generated distribution of information making it more locatable for individuals.

In this final part, I am thinking more about the possibilities for digital ethnography and how this can contribute to museums’ use of social media.

How ethnographic research can improve matters

The KSU Digital Ethnography Working Group uses participant observation on YouTube to attempt to analyse context collapse, when communication is removed from a predictable context [20]. This approach to social media as having loose context can transform the nature of the use of the tools, where those tools are mediating relationships rather than content. This digital ethnography can be summarised with Wellman’s statement of networked individualism as a move from “place-to-place to person-to-person” [21]. This echoes Putnam’s Bowling Alone which has greatly influenced research into the social capital of tourism, which impacts directly on the development of strategies for communication by museums [22].

Ethnographic approaches have traditionally maintained that audiences and their experiences are hard to measure and are long-term and diffuse [23]. Ruddock highlights the problem of the tendency to define studies of audiences as being merely an instance of communication, using objectivism and relativism to analyse impacts [23]. The separation of science and hermeneutics from practice is essential to ensuring that the impact on society of experiences can be contextualised. Marketing researcher, Mariampolski’s statement is a useful illustration of this:

“Guerrilla marketing and word-of-mouth marketing defy traditional views of the relationship between marketing and media.” [24]

As it highlights how explanatory and exploratory research objectives must be combined to achieve enhanced enquiry [24]. Mariampolski combines positioning studies and process description with motivational, comprehension, cultural analysis and consumer segmentation to provide a toolkit for the qualitative analysis of research [25].

Ethnography’s methods that encourage placing an emphasis on Wesch’s cultural inversion where there is increasing individualism occurring simultaneously to an increasing importance of community [20] can provide a way to predict who will encounter museums using social media, and marketing approaches, with the analysis of textual data. This has real possibilities when combined with Meyer’s marketing approach to this phenomenon; the concept of ‘centre-edge organisation’, where centrally based experts communicate to edges, and these are connected to one another and therefore actively enforce the central policy [26]. In the instance of social media and museums, the central experts are communities of interest as well as the museums themselves, and the edges are social media users. The central ‘experts’ communicate ideas and experiences outwards and the edges actively engage with one another as well as with the central core, which reinforces ideas coming outwards.

Designing a social media strategy

So what does this all mean for museums and their use of social media?

Christidou’s work on museum visit motivations provides a useful starting point for the development of a methodology for the adoption of an ethnographic framework to incorporate notions of identity into conversation analysis carried out at museums; it builds on the ‘centre-edge’ approach. Christidou achieves this through the recognition of what the individuals being observed demonstrate to be relevant context to the formation of identity [27]. Kozinets’ ethnographic-based approach of netnography, where there is a recognition of the move from mass production to mass customization through the study of “language, motivations, consumption linkages and symbols of consumption-oriented online communities” [28], could provide museums with a way forwards if the considerations of the need for deep learning could be incorporated into this approach where context is key.

Key points for a social media strategy

So in view of all of that, this is what I would conclude.  Its just an initial thought, and many more people have thought much cleverer things, but the way I see it, in order to design a social media strategy for museums, the following key considerations could be put forward:

  1. Context
  2. Individual engagement
  3. Assumptions
  4. Motivations
  5. Cultural inversion

A break-down of 1 to 5:

Learning, and the context within which this occurs, must be considered at all times, as must the meanings that individuals give to events that are occurring in association with a museum, and Bruner, Whaling and Anderson provide ways to ensure that this can be more accurately understood [18, 19, 17]. Individuals are central to social media strategy and Meyer’s centre-edge theory helps to support this [26]. Assumptions must be taken into consideration and Ruddock and Mariampolski provide ways to do this to improve depth of engagement [23, 24, 25]. Christidou and Kozinets’ methodological approaches can help to achieve a consideration of motivations behind engagement [27, 28]. Wesch’s cultural inversion awareness could help to incorporate awareness of the univocal nature of much current marketing research [20], improving cognisance of context.

Adopting the above approach as a guide to considerations for the design of a social media strategy could contribute to improving the depth of the impact of a museum’s engagement with its stakeholders.



[17] Anderson, C., 2004. ‘The Long Tail’. WIRED Magazine, 12:10. Available at:

[18] Bruner, J., 1996. The Culture of Education. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA

[19] Whaling, H., 2011. ‘5 Ways Social Media Has Changed Marketing Campaigns’. Modern Media Agency Series, mashable, 12th May 2011. Available at:

[20] Wesch, M., 2009. ‘The Machine is Changing Us: YouTube Culture and the Politics of Authenticity’. Personal Democracy Forum, NYC, 29-30th June 2009. Available at:

[21] Wellman, B., 2001. Physical place and cyber-place: The rise of networked Individualism. International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 25: 227-5

[22] Putnam, R.D., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon & Schuster: New York

[23] Ruddock, A., 2001. Understanding Audiences: Theory and Method, Sage: London

[24] Mariampolski, H., 2006. Ethnography for Marketers. A Guide to Consumer Immersion, Sage: London

[25] Mariampolski, H., 2001. Qualitative Market Research. A Comprehensive Guide, Sage: London

[26] Meyer, C., 2009. ‘Centre-Edge Organization: An Alternative to Traditional Hierarchy.’ Working Wider, 12th October 2009. Available at:

[27] Christidou, D., 2010. ‘Re-Introducing Visitors: Thoughts and Discussion on John Falk’s Notion of Visitors’ Identity-Related Visit Motivations’, Institute of Archaeology, 20

[28] Kozinets, R.V., 2002. ‘The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities’. Journal of Marketing Research, 39, February: 61-72