Over the past decade, we’ve done a lot of research into online diaspora communities around the world, covering a variety of cultures and nationalities. Over 10 so far and what we suspect may be, the largest analysis of diaspora communities in the world. As we recently sifted through the data, we found some common elements to all digital diaspora communities.
So how do we do this research? We use a methodology called Netnography, which is taken from the real-world anthropological method called ethnography. Basically, it is the systematic study of a culture. Netnography is a similar process but done entirely online. The term and initial frameworks and yes, even the book, was developed by Robert Kozinets at the Marshall School of Business in California. At sapient.d We apply netnography for digital diaspora research, but also for brand and online reputation analysis, competitor insights and market research. It adds quite an insightful layer to traditional forms of expensive and time-consuming research such as surveys and focus groups.
Commonalities of Digital Diaspora Groups
As we looked at the volumes of data around conversations, lexicology, semiotics, group behaviours and social indicators, we found that many communities share key elements. These serve two primary functions for diaspora communities; 1) to provide key indicators to members of a community for self-identification and group solidarity and 2) to provide a common set of symbols and cultural meanings by which their community can be easily identified by non-communities in their non-origin country of residence and in attracting other diaspora.
Generational Participation: Interestingly, we found that second and third generation diaspora will be more digitally engaged than the first generation. This may be that the first immigrating generation left their country of origin for reasons of distress such as political, conflict or religious. Later generations will be loyal to the country they are born in, but seek a connection to their country of origin.
Symbology (Semiotics): Diaspora communities will seek to use the primary symbols of their origin country across social media and wherever they engage online. Either as an image and often as part of the “handle” or avatar name they use in online forums. For example, Welsh diaspora use the red dragon of Wales, while Scottish will use the Rampant Lion while Indian and Ethiopian diaspora will often use a lion and South Africans will use the springbok. They may also use objects such as the Harp for Irish and a variation of the Spartan helmet for Greeks.
National Sports Symbolism: We found this in every diaspora community, with the most common sport being soccer, followed by cricket and rugby, then baseball. Diaspora communities will share national team rankings, news of top players and symbols of those teams. Often, sports will play a role in fostering positive dialogues between diaspora communities online.
Music: This is another commonality to diaspora communities. Music sharing platforms such as Spotify, SoundCloud or Apple Music will often have cultural playlists created by diaspora communities and used to connect with citizens in their host or naturalized country. Often times, a diaspora person will create a music video that mixes together their cultural origin music with that most common in their naturalized country.
National Dress: Most countries around the world have some form of national dress such as the sari in India, the vyshyvanka embroidered shirt of Ukraine and the intricately designed shirts and dresses of North American indigenous tribes. Sometimes clothing items are obtained or created by diaspora communities and shared through online image sharing apps such as Instagram, Snap or TikTok.
All of these elements are key parts of what form a cultural group, including language and writing. Understanding digital diaspora communities can help us understand how diaspora engage in their new countries and help countries of origin connect with diaspora communities for economic development such as inward investment and tourism. Such insights can also help in times of international crises when connecting families and seeking aid.