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Blessed are the geeks: An ethnographic study of consumer networks in social media, 2006–2012

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Understanding the nature and extent of consumer networks in social media has been complicated by both their rapid adoption and their tendency to adapt and mutate as they have been deployed. Originally described as Web 2.0 technologies, social media appear to have shifted the locus of communicative power from brand owners, governments, and large media companies in favour of their audiences. Much has been claimed for social media marketing, but empirical studies are only recently starting to appear in leading journals, and in most cases concentrate on the role of brands, products, and services. This article presents the findings of a six-year virtual ethnography, one focused on the consumer, a study with the aim of gaining a preliminary understanding of this evolving phenomenon. It finds that social media contain sets of complex interpersonal relationships in both concentric networks and in ad hoc groupings. These networks function through multifaceted reciprocal displays in which products, services, and brands may have a role, but are more likely to be peripheral to other aspects of relationship building.
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Keywords: Facebook; Twitter; catharsis; netnography; reciprocity; social media; virtual conspicuous consumption; virtual display approval

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bedfordshire, UK

Publication date: 2013-04-01

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