7 Tips to Humanize Digital Ethnography

Digital Ethnography

Digital ethnography platforms allow you to interact with many consumers at scale by connecting with them via their computer and/or mobile phone. The tool is adaptable, allowing you to observe consumers in their own environment as well as converse and interact with them 24/7, both inside and outside the home.

However, when using these tools, researchers need to be careful not to unintentionally alienate themselves from their respondents. Because unlike in-person ethnographies, the nuances of nonverbal communication remain unseen and the warm tones from face-to-face interactions are lost.

Digital ethnography platforms are great, but if you don’t get the number of completed activities you need from them because your respondents are disengaged or uncomfortable – then that’s a huge problem.

So how can you take advantage of these next-generation research tools without sacrificing the human touch?

Here are 7 tips to humanize the experience for your respondents:

  1. At the beginning of the study, record a video of you and your team introducing yourselves, preferably in some cozy setting like on a couch. It always warms things up to see the people you will be interacting with. Make the introduction friendly and conversational. You want them to feel like they know you!
  2. Ask them to upload photos of their hobbies and interests outside of the study. Before jumping straight into the heart of the study, allow themselves to express who they are. What do they like to do? What are their passions? This helps break the ice and also allows you to get to know them outside of a certain segment (i.e. “breakfast eater or non-breakfast eater”).
  3. Instead of writing a message, use a webcam to answer any of the more complicated questions they have. This reminds them that yes, there is indeed a real person behind the platform.
  4. Let them know what they are doing before they do it. It always helps to have an intro piece that explains to them what they can expect (i.e. “This next activity will be a creative one. We will be asking you to create a collage which you will later talk us through in a video”) before giving the specific instructions and “how-to” of the activity. Going straight into the directions may seem too overwhelming and intro pieces allows for breathers and reduces confusion.
  5. Double check your copy to make sure it is friendly, clear, and succinct. Include exclamation points and encouraging words after they have completed tasks (i.e. “Great job on your collage! Now for the next activity…”)
  6. Welcome them each morning of the study with a friendly note. The note should be an update of their individual progress and the community progress. The note should be friendly, but also lets them know how many other people have completed the task. This social proof will instill a tiny sense of guilt and of course motivation if they are among the ones who are not caught up yet.
  7. Probe to dig deeper. Asking more questions based off their answers (i.e. “Could you elaborate on how you were feeling here?”) will help you to get at deeper insights. It also lets them know that there is someone actually reading their answers and will encourage them to continue.


We hope these tips can help you maintain the human touch with your consumers, allowing them to open up, leading to more honesty, candor, and deeper insights.

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