Just about every country in the world has diaspora communities living in other countries. Sometimes of the first, emigrating generation and many with third to seventh or more generations. As emigrants move to other countries, they become integrated into those societies, but often pass down language, cultural aspects and values to subsequent generations. One well-known example would be the Irish and Italian emigrants to the United States. The cities of Boston and New York feature strong Irish and Italian communities that have parades and festivals.

In the over 10 digital diaspora netnographic research projects we’ve conducted to date, we found that these communities, often generations later, retain a keen interest in their cultural heritage. Often, third and fourth generations will see part of their cultural identity as an important part of their perception of self.

Many countries have come to find that engaging with their diaspora communities around the world can reap economic and other benefits, including foreign investment, export relations, diplomatic ties and tourism promotion.

Netnography is a research methodology grounded in the roots of the well established anthropological method known as ethnography. Where anthropologists have embedded themselves in real-world cultures to learn about those societies, netnographers embed themselves in online communities. Sometimes these online communities are built around a topic of interest such as sports or arts. Diaspora communities are also very active online, often having Facebook groups, YouTube channels, online forums in channels such as Reddit or loosely knit Twitter groups.

For tourism agencies, economic development organisations, trade groups and cultural promotion organisations, engaging with their country’s diaspora can be a great way to foster ties to help promote the objectives of the origin country. In Wales, the non-profit organisation Global Welsh, is leveraging its digital diaspora to grow opportunities for tourism, inward investment and economic development (disclosure; they are a client.)

Netnographic research such as we do, helps identify where those diaspora communities are, how they are networked, core interests and the symbols and information artefacts they use to build a sense of connection with their cultural ancestry. Such research helps these organisations know where to concentrate their communications and engagement activities online, how to approach them and inform strategies in the real-world.

A netnographic study goes far deeper than what you might learn from surface monitoring of social media channels or Google Analytics. While that data is very helpful, it misses the context of various communities, how they relate, how they’re networked, key influencers, cultural affiliations, symbology uses and semiotics. All critical insights to developing an effective communications and engagement strategy.

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