Branding the Digital Nomad Lifestyle - A Genre Analysis of Coworking Retreat Websites
The concept of digital nomads – professionals who are able to use digital communication technologies to simultaneously earn an income while travelling the world – has become increasingly popular in the recent years due to news and social media coverage. Often portrayed as an everlasting vacation to exotic locations (Sutherland & Hossein-Jarrahi, 2017), the growing demand for this alternative lifestyle has motivated the emergence of new businesses such as coworking retreats. These retreats arrange work and travel opportunities for groups of digital nomads offering them opportunities to connect with a like-minded community. However, in advertising their services through website homepages, the coworking retreats appear to have appropriated the digital nomad concept and rebranded it for their own commercial purposes.
This study identifies the ways in which the digital nomad lifestyle has been capitalised by examining coworking retreat homepages as a novel genre. It seeks to understand how the branding of this particular lifestyle is socially constructed by drawing on theories of social constructionism, social identity, genre, and multimodality. The design of this study involves a multimodal genre analysis of the 45 most popular coworking retreat homepages. Through a mixed methods approach, I investigate the rhetorical structure, linguistic, and visual design elements that are employed on these homepages.
The key findings of this study show that a range of discursive strategies on these homepages construct an idealised and romanticised narrative of digital nomads, which become a key selling point to attract customers. I argue that coworking retreats have taken advantage of the original digital nomad concept, reshaped and promoted it as a more superficial and glamorous lifestyle for their own commercial gain. The homepage narratives identified in this study depict digital nomads as an elite group of Western individuals who lead privileged and socially exclusive lifestyles. This study concludes by suggesting that the original digital nomads are fast becoming an ‘endangered species’ through the commercialisation of their lifestyles by coworking retreats. As a consequence, a social identity divide appears to be forming within the wider digital nomad community, as to who is an authentic digital nomad and who is not.