How to start utilising the efficiency and flexibility of online qualitative research methods.

Online qualitative research methods of capturing insights are complementary to traditional approaches, but it is a methodology which will continue to grow as people choose to live, work and play online!

While some people will just jump in (sink or swim), this is not necessarily the best way to take your first step. Not to dampen your enthusiasm, you will still need that, but like anything new, your first experience will not only determine the outcome of the project but will shape the attitudes of all those involved towards online qualitative research as a viable method.

So how does one transition to online methods after building expertise capturing qualitative insights using ‘physical’ face-to-face focus groups and interviews?

Anyone who remembers the movie ‘The Karate Kid’ will recall a moment when Mr Miyagi instructs the ‘Karate Kid’ to “wax on, wax off”, those of you who don’t, it just means from basic tasks comes greater knowledge and wider application of that knowledge. Start with something small, but invest the time in planning and treat it as a large project. One of the most constructive ways of introducing an online qualitative research methodology into your research mix is to start with a complementary scenario. What I mean by complimentary is choose a project where an online component will add value to the result, but if it doesn’t go the way you planned, it does not adversely affect the outcome of the whole project. This approach will constructively help you ‘test the waters’, but also add greater depth to your qualitative research project. If things don’t go the way you planned (as they often do when you are learning a new skill), it will have zero impact on the overall project outcome, but it will begin to build your knowledge and understanding of the online qualitative process.

However, it is crucial when you are approaching online qualitative research for the first time, that you apply the online qualitative method to a real project – not simply a test of the technology with a few of your colleagues, and then plan based on the outcome. Don’t get me wrong, pilot testing with the internal team is the right approach when testing the flow of your online plan/ discussion guide, but it is also fraught with issues, from technology (a topic for another time) to your working group-think! Humans will inevitably look for ways to avoid change, and this also goes for adopting new technology and online qualitative methods – get excited about the many possibilities.

Traditional qualitative research methods are centred around either a 60 to 120-minute live face to face session. You may have booked a focus group facility, worked hard to get everyone in the room, the client (either external or internal) is waiting in the viewing room, and you have a set time to get this right. With online qualitative research, you need to be prepared to take a step back. Yes, you have the same time pressures and risks as any other project, but let’s assume you didn’t get it right the first time, this should not dissuade you from going back and running participants (new or old) through the adjusted setup. If you are using the right software, you shouldn’t be incurring additional setup costs. The point being, this is where online qualitative research differs in its flexibility, speed and cost. In a chat focus group, you can make any necessary adjustment to the discussion guide and get the group up and be running within minutes, in an overtime qualitative discussion you can adjust the topics to clarify or expand on a subject missed.

online qualitative research using discussion boards.

Don’t underestimate its power. You will only experience the power and scope of online qualitative research when you apply it to answer real world questions. For example, you may consider running a homework task as a prelude to a traditional face-to-face focus group or interview. By setting an overtime discussion board into private diary mode, you can capture text, images and video from your participants. The insights can be used to provide input into the formulation of a face-to-face discussion guide. Alternatively, you may decide to run some post-live discussion groups, or one-to-one interviews, to ‘check-in’ with your participants and see how they are progressing post group. Post-group follow-ups can be quickly organised to gauge opinions on changes you make to campaign collateral, designs or product ideas – it extends the value of traditional research methods.

Deciding to get your first online qualitative research project underway is the hardest step you will take, and with anything new, there is always a degree of apprehension and nervous excitement. I have spoken with many Marketing and Research professionals who felt they were not confident enough to talk to people online. But what it comes down to is one’s confidence in the ability to use the tools and understand the protocols for conversing with individuals in an online qualitative research setting. The key to the success of your first online qualitative research project is to remember that just because you are asking questions in an online environment doesn’t mean you are reinventing your thinking. You just need to be able to adapt what you already know.

Just as important as choosing the right online qualitative method, is the awareness that there are real people behind those responses, don’t become desensitised by the environment, what I mean here is don’t feel that the interaction with participants online isn’t as valid or as personal as a face-to-face meeting. Behind those responses, there are emotions, attitudes and behaviours, and just because it is taking place online it doesn’t mean the insights captured are of any less value than a face-to-face focus group or interview! On the contrary, you will find that there are many personal or behavioural barriers eliminated when using an online qualitative approach.

By Steven Mallows
Founding Director
GroupQuality
LinkedIn

GroupQuality® is a cloud-based agile market and social software and service that helps you capture insights, in less time, on smaller budgets and with fewer resources. If you need a fast and flexible tool to engage customers, employees and partners, to communicate, collaborate, ask questions and quickly capture the answers, then we are for you!

This article first appeared @ groupquality.com/blog

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