Challenges of researching relationships within online environments

Janet Ward, Nigel Coates

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


The increased dependence of western societies on The Internet as indicated by broadband uptake, smart phone and tablet ownership has led to increased research in the online environment. This has led to some new methodological developments such as Netnography ( Kozinets, 2010). However, the researchers ability to function effectively within these environments is rarely discussed. While, researchers may talk about virtual environment to ‘a new fronteir’ or mention some sort of acclimatisation for users they seem to miss explaining what they have done to familiarise themselves with a new environment. Indeed the term ‘cultural competence’ first used in acculturation studies has also been mentioned in connection with online environments but does not have also been applied to researchers.
Virtual worlds present methodological challenges for researchers including taking avatar form. Hoffman & Novak(1996) were among the earliest to highlight computer competence was a significant issue for consumers within virtual environments. From the researcher perspective there is the potential for their avatar to become a reference point for example Dean, Cook, Keating, & Murphy (2009) found that more participants agreed their real weight was about right when speaking to a thin avatar than when interviewed by a fat avatar. Therefore, computer competence and the avatar appearance may be aspects of cultural competence within such environments. Becoming culturally competent within such environments potentially may be significantly different and may also influence the research process itself.
The authors review their experiences in undertaking research in two different virtual worlds. We argue that researchers in virtual worlds need to demonstrate an understanding as to the antecedents of cultural competence within different virtual environments, explain how they became culturally competent and how this potentially could influence their research. While this work has focused on virtual worlds where individuals develop relationships in avatar form we suggest that it would be interesting to broaden this research into other online environments such as social media.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Colloquium on Relationship Marketing (ICRM), 2015, Helsinki,
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2015
Event23rd International Colloquium on Relationship Marketing: Relationship Marketing: Back to the Roots and into the Future. - Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 15 Sept 201517 Sept 2015


Conference23rd International Colloquium on Relationship Marketing
Abbreviated titleICRM


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