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Turn up the success of your online research project

So you need to talk to your target audience to get some answers and you have chosen to do it online. What can you do to make sure your online research project is a resounding success?

Online research, in its many forms, provides the perfect environment to instruct and guide people through a set of tasks to help answer some of the most difficult questions. Online research software make is easy to facilitate the completion of exercises such as asking a customer to keep a diary about how they use a product or service, or posting image snaps every time they make contact with a brand. Whenever using online research to ask questions and collect answers you can turn up your success by keeping it clear, simple and usable!

It’s all about the online interaction

Over the last decade we have observed how people interact with online applications, in particularly how they behave when performing a specified set of tasks. These tasks may be as simple as answering questions in an online survey, completing a discussion question in an online focus group or finishing a set of tasks in an online community discussion. Planning how the questions and tasks will determine the interaction between the participant and the technology will significantly improve your research design.

What to do with pesky files

One of the most common problems we observe is when research participants are emailed tasks, questions and exercises in a file format they can’t open because they don’t own a copy of the software used to create the file.

One of the first things you can do to avoid this is fully brief the person who is selecting participants to take part in your research project. Participants can then be selected with the full knowledge of what they will be asked to do and how they will be asked to do it.

Some online research projects require participants to complete a homework exercise. For example, asking participants to keep a digital image diary of their experiences with a brand, product or service, or completing feedback questions in a document and then uploading it to an online discussion board for comment. Before you do anything, take a step back and ask yourself this question: “can I get participants to complete my exercise by inputting the data for this task directly into the online environment?”

It makes a lot of sense to minimise the technology options for you and your participants. You want participants to primarily focus on answering your questions, and it is also far less work for you when analysing, filtering and reporting on the insights if the data is added directly into online research software.

If you need to send files to participants

If you need to provide a document template for individuals to complete, then we would recommend a file format which is simple to use and can be opened with different software programs and on different computing devices — including PCs, Macs and mobile tablets.

  • Most computing devices have the ability to open and edit RTF (rich text format documents) and this would eliminate issues participants have with not being able to open proprietary file types. You will still have to invest time pulling the data together from each file, but it is easier for participants.
  • PDF documents are another popular document format which can be used to deliver detailed homework instructions. These documents will maintain the look and feel of your original document, and most computers and portable devices are able to open and read PDF documents. This is a perfect format if you want participants to read the instructions and view any imagery in its original form.
  • Another simple alternative, and one which is often overlooked, is saving your documents as images. The advantage is that the participants will be able to view the content in the format as it was intended.
  • There is also nothing wrong with supplying more than one format of the same document. As long as you let participants know you are supplying the same document in several different formats.
  • The preferred option is to simply add the instructions for the task within the online discussion environment. Everyone who is participating will be able to quickly access the instructions and the environment facilitates rich group discussion. If you need to send a document we would recommend you include instructions about how to access and use the supplied documents.

This might be something like, “Download this document from today’s discussion and open it on your computer. The document is approximately 4Mb is size, which means that it will take a little while to download on a mobile device, so we recommend you download the document when connected to a wireless internet connection. If you do not have a PDF reader it is a very simple to a Free copy by going to http://get.adobe.com/reader/ and downloading the PDF reader from there.“

Be helpful at all times

When assigning tasks and questions for participants to complete make it clear when you want it completed, and the format you want it answered in. Provide instructions about how comments and files are to be uploaded to the online discussion and even consider sharing completed examples to help get your message across. Participants will also need to know someone will be available to answer their questions – this can be easily facilitated within an online discussion by utilising private messaging within the software.

Don’t technology discriminate

All participant computer skills will vary, and it is best not to assume later generations are more technology savvy than our ageing population. For example, over the last decade we have observed how Baby Boomers patiently and willingly go that extra mile to ensure they follow instructions. We have also found some participants born to the generation Y and the Z generation are not as technology nimble as their generation X cousins. The key message here is don’t discriminate your audience when it comes to technology use.

Why you should consider Online Focus Groups

Top 6 reasons why you should consider Online Focus Groups

Online Focus Groups are fast becoming an essential tool in the research toolkit, and for good reason. Online focus groups are a great way to quickly gain insights on product ideas, marketing campaigns, websites and advertising concepts. All this while enjoying the cost-savings and convenience online research methods bring to the table.

Online focus groups are not a replacement for traditional focus groups, however they have definite advantages over traditional face to face methods. As a purchaser of research it is important you know all your options to ensure you are getting the biggest bang for your research dollar.

  1. Save time and money — applying to both the researcher and participants, there are no travel, catering, or room hire expenses. There is definitely no commuting time, or worries about participants not showing up due to bad weather.
  2. Breaking down the geographical boundaries – participants can be located anywhere there is a computer and reliable Internet connection. This is ideal for reaching people who are geographically dispersed and unable to travel to attend a face to face focus group.
  3. Anonymity to discuss sensitive topics – in an online text chat focus group participants can enjoy a degree of personal anonymity and are more comfortable discussing subjects in areas such as health, politics, and employee satisfaction.
  4. Everyone has an equal voice – the online environment dramatically reduces the opportunity for individuals to dominate or directly influence other participants, which can often occur in a traditional face to face focus group.
  5. Convenience for stakeholders – clients and stakeholders can engage with the project by observing the action via a private online link to the group without having to leave the comfort of their home or office computer.
  6. Results are available immediately – transcripts of the group discussion and any quantitative data collected during the group, such as polls or surveys, are available immediately – saving you valuable time and money!

For more information about how online focus groups or and online research methods can help your business or organisation, please contact us today for a chat, or check out our 15 minute video presentation.

Optimising your participant recruitment for online focus groups

Having spoken directly with many, many online focus group participants there are some common questions and curiosities that participants have with this research methodology – many of which can influence their decision to participate – or not.

Applying these insights, the following is a summary of ways in which you can easily and effectively optimise your recruitment efforts for online focus group research:

Communicate, communicate!
The key to optimising your recruitment efforts for online focus group research starts with the initial communication. Whether by email or telephone, paint the picture straight away in your first contact with them. Include all of the information the participant will need to assess your proposition favourably and say “yes!”. It is always best to assume they have not participated in an online focus group before.

7 tips to improve your online focus group participation

  1. Background - include a brief introductory summary on why the online focus group research session is being conducted. What is the client’s objective? What is the research need? This creates context for participants and gives them a heads up on what will they be expected to discuss and offer their opinions on. This comes from a frequent question I get when recruiting, “what do I need to talk about? I may not know much about it”. Remember no one likes to feel awkward so telling them upfront about the topic of the online focus group allows them to assess whether they can effectively contribute to the subject matter. It sets the scene so they are not walking in to unfamiliar territory.
  2. Online Focus Groups
  3. Expectations – include a set of dot points which gives a summary of what they can expect when agreeing to participate in an online focus group. This email should outline what a participant can expect on the day, and what they would need to successfully participate from a technical perspective.
  4. Remuneration – money talks! With consumer groups you rarely find a group of committed people willing to give up an hour or so of their time just to do your client a favour. Offering a suitable and reasonable remuneration is a good way to appeal to participants and get them to agree to participate. Base this on how much time the participant will need to commit to the group and if they need to do any prep for the session. For groups that we run on behalf of clients, we offer between $AUD45 and $AUD50 per group for consumer groups for a 60 min group with up to $AUD70 for a 90 minute group. I am aware that some researchers are paying several hundreds of dollars to particular professionals (i.e Doctors) for one online focus group session. This more extreme hook is often needed for time poor individuals who are offering professional input. In your communication with potential participants, state upfront that they will be remunerated for their time and state clearly that this is payable only upon successful completion of the group. Suitable and reasonable remuneration helps to reduce abandonment on the day and contributes to more thoughtful and considered responses during the online focus group.
  5. Timing – this is important. We run most online focus groups around 7.15pm in the evening, on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Most people have finished work, have come to terms with the reality of the weekend being over and not distracted by Friday social commitments and most have had a meal and put the children to bed (well sometimes!). We find with day group recruitment it is traditionally harder as participants often have competing appointments/ meetings and the dreaded email inbox or mobile phone is vying for their attention. This evening time slot works well for both consumer and business groups.
  6. Personalise the email Use their first name, “Hi Geoff”. If you are expecting these people to give you their personal opinion and share their experiences, don’t make them feel like just another name on a list. Establish rapport by personalising contact from the beginning by using their first name, “Hi Geoff” and sign the email off using your name and title.
  7. Anonymity – whenever possible make your online focus group anonymous and communicate this clearly to potential participants when recruiting. Ensure your online research software allows you to assign an ‘alias’ or unique identifier to participants for reporting purposes. Anonymity is appealing to participants especially those first timers or lower literacy users who may have concerns about ‘getting it wrong’. The sense that other participants won’t know who they are if they say something left of field, with more typos than the rest or in conflict to the rest of the group is a good hook when recruiting.
  8. Paint the picture – these days, people are so used to commenting online through social media or via mobile phone texting that asking them to type their opinion into a text box is no longer unfamiliar territory. When recruiting, tell potentials that participating in an online chat focus group is like contributing to an online chat on FaceBook, then they can assess for themselves if they have the ability or inclination to participate. Having used the FaceBook comparison many times in the past, often it is the clincher to them agreeing to participate, as they seem to be able to visualise what the experience will be like, removing a fear of the complete unknown.

Find out more about Online Focus Groups.

By Ainslie Timbs
Co-Founder, GroupQuality

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Further reading: Read about How to Invite Participants to an Online Discussion Board – a recent blog post by GroupQuality CEO Steven Mallows.

Are you ready to Moderate an online discussion board?

OK, so you think you are ready to moderate your first online discussion board?

You’re full of nervous anticipation, and you are excited about the possibilities. Your expectations are high and you have relied on your knowledge and experience to get you to this far. There is only one problem, you have left everything to the last minute and you quickly discover there are new processes to learn and participant responses are being influenced by the way you have presented your online discussion topics. You can hear yourself say, “if only I had known these things before .…” Well the good news is you’re here now, reading this.

There is no doubt advances in technology has improved the process of managing insight projects, but it’s important to remember that your online discussion board will only be as good as the information and effort you invest into it. To repeat a cliché, and still the best way to get the point across, ‘Garbage in, garbage out!’

Whether you are conducting online research, evaluating the success of a program, or collaborating on a project, a clear understanding that you need to invest the time to learn the tools and become familiar with the process will ensure your online discussion board is not only a success, but also delivers the tangible insights needed to make timely decisions.

Research Discussion Boards

If you are moderating an online discussion over five days, or a mini community group over a few weeks, it pays to take the time to think about how your discussion topics will present, engage and build upon the subject. Pre-scripting the topics into the discussion board and conducting a pilot test with your colleagues is a simple way to prepare for the real thing. Of course, nothing is set in stone and you can add discussion topics to your plan as your project progresses. I also acknowledge that some of you like to sparsely structure a discussion, and some may not be familiar with the ins-and-outs of structuring a five day discussion plan, especially if you are transitioning from a traditional face to face approach, but I would strongly encourage everyone to pilot-test a discussion board plan before rolling it out to your panel of participants.

For those of you who have clients and stakeholders who need to sign-off on any kind of discussion plan, let them know that as the discussion progresses it may be necessary to make small adjustments and additions. These “tweaks” are to accommodate any new revelations and to provide you with the flexibility to peruse new lines of enquiry. There is nothing worse than locking yourself into a discussion path, before you realise you may have made an error of judgement (after all we are all human) and need to make a quick ninety-degree turn.  Ideally, you need the freedom to skip, add, change and extend the discussion topics as the need arises. And yes, you will still need to keep your stakeholders informed and the best way to do this is to invite them in to an online discussion board as an ‘Observer’ – a basic requirement for any online discussion tool.

Setting the scene

Before you start putting your discussion plan together it’s a good idea to add an introduction. This is what participants will see when they first login to the online discussion board. Welcome participants and remind them why they are being invited to participate. You can also use the introduction to set the ground rules and expectations. For more information about inviting discussion board participants see the blog post: “How to invite participants to an online consumer discussion”

10 essential tips for moderating an online over-time discussion

  1. The first discussion topic you schedule, or manually post, should help set the scene. Build the confidence of your participants and let them become familiar with the technology and process. This will improve the level of engagement and prepare the participants for the days or weeks ahead. As a rule of thumb start with a universal topic – question or task that everyone can confidently complete. This process also helps to informally introduce all the participants to each other. Why not start by asking them to change their Alias name (anonymous boards) or perhaps upload an avatar, or post a ‘selfie’ from their smart phone or desktop computer.
  2. Use images and visual representations where ever you can in your discussion topics. This improves participant attention (appealing to visual, auditory and textual learners) and makes a “dull” topic more interesting. However, make sure any visuals are relevant to the questions or tasks participants are responding to. If possible, break down the discussion topic text into defined sections, dot points or sub-questions so it facilitates easy reading.
  3. It is important at the beginning of a new discussion topic (perhaps on a new day) to remind participants to go back and review previous topics they may have missed. You should also be able to pipe your topics. This occurs when you set up your discussion plan so participants cannot move on to new topics until they have posted to the first topic in the plan.
  4. The first moderator comment is an opportunity to say ‘Hi” and introduce yourself to the group. Remind them who you are and what your role is. Even though you may have already said “Hi” in the discussion board’s introduction, it’s good etiquette to kick things off with a friendly greeting☺ Even though we are portraying an online version of ourselves it doesn’t mean we can drop the basic rules of effective communication.
  5. Encourage participation from the beginning by regularly posting replies to individual comments and encouraging others to respond in detail. Watch for short one-line responses and ask those participants to elaborate on their comment. By maintaining a high level of conversation you will encourage deeper ongoing engagement.
  6. Ask participants to upload images, add YouTube and phone captured videos, link to websites or get them to select an answer on a poll. All these discussion board elements will add depth to your discussion and make the experience interesting for the participants. “Why do I have to entertain my participants? I am paying them they should be interesting enough.” I can here you cry. The simple answer is that cash will get them to login each day, but if you want to get the brain juices flowing you will need to put in the effort to bring out the best in people – remember what we said about “Garbage in, garbage out?
  7. To assist with analysis, you should be able to attach moderator notes to interesting comments and assign a category to help you filter the transcripts and reports.
  8. Monitor participant activity, send reminder emails, reset passwords and send out broadcast emails summarising the weekly activity. If participants are a no-show, and it is convenient to do so, make an old fashioned phone call to confirm their ongoing participation.
  9. Congratulate individual participants who are following the rules and are making significant contributions, bring others into these model conversations and invite them to reply to the posted comments. Use a combination of open (public) replies – so all participants can see the encouragement – and private messages to individuals to show genuine interest in what they have to say.
  10. Include a final discussion topic at the end of your discussion plan with a link to an online survey. This is a great way to capture additional insights and help you define some of the views and opinions expressed during the discussion.

Find out more about online discussion boards.

By: Steven Mallows
Co-Founder and CEO


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