Five Tips on How to Move Your Qualitative Research Online

Online community research allows for great insights

From saving you money, time and travel to yielding productive insights, online communities can benefit your company in many ways. But the unknown can be intimidating, so for you novices, let’s break down how to conduct online research with this revolutionary tool.

For researchers, it can feel uncomfortable to apply hard-earned skills and develop new ones to use online communities. For a marketer making the big decisions, it always feels risky making the jump into unknown territory.

But online communities are surging in popularity. They can provide researchers access to a wide geographical range of participants without traveling.

They also allow moderators to dig deeper and gather powerful insights, which can further enhance a company’s product or service.

“Online communities are a great evolution of the research process,” says Digsite Partner Brad Rostowfske, founder of Raise the BAR Innovation LLC. “The time has come to use them for more and more applications.”

The ultimate benefit of online communities is the ability to communicate with participants over a longer period of time, says Brad. The more time you have, the more creative and flexible you can be in figuring out what works best for you to gather great insights.

Brad offered up five tips on how to conduct online qualitative research using communities:

1. Make it easy for participants to respond. Online communities allow you to use the same skills you would use in a focus group to facilitate discussion.

But getting participants to open up depends on how effectively you use the medium to spark conversation within your community. Brad believes you can “make it easy” for participants to open up through the following methods:

  • Conduct surveys for a simple, straightforward way to gather great information. They’re quick and efficient. Be sure to share results afterwards with participants. People like to see how their answers compare to others, and it can ignite an insightful conversation.
     

  • Use visuals as a creative way to stimulate your participant audience. Stream videos and post photos relevant to the topic you're talking about. Embrace the medium as much as you can - participants respond well to visual stimulus.
     

  • Stimulate open-ended conversation by utilizing your face-to-face interview and moderation skills. (i.e. What is most important and why?)

It isn't as unnatural or strange as you think it is for people to open up online. In fact, it is common for people to be more candid online than in person.

Remember, we live in a world where just about everyone and their mother (literally) has a Facebook account. People are used to commenting and responding to each other online.

And because you will not receive immediate reactions and answers as you would face-to-face, you'll have time to assess responses and to phrase more productive and thoughtful questions.

It is important to note that while keeping participants engaged and stimulated can be fun, it is also essential for success in an online community. You won’t have their undivided attention as you would in a focus group.

Read more tips about how to build online community engagement here.

2. Understand the online research tools your service provides. When shopping for an online community platform, understand the functions of the tools (think: survey tools, etc.) each one provides.

Determine which tools are most conducive to your research style before purchasing a certain software. Using a platform that lacks essential tools can hamper your research and lead to frustration.

Selecting a tool that’s too complex and hard to use can slow you down even more. Look for one that combines ease-of-use with the most important capabilities you need.

3. Prepare for a lengthier reporting process. You’ll likely collect more information in online community research than you would in a focus group. Writing a concise report for your client may be more time-consuming and complicated.

While software is becoming “friendlier” in this aspect, says Brad, factor in extra time as part of your reporting process.

4. Practice, practice, practice. Just like any new tool, the first time you use online communities is not going to be as smooth or productive as your tenth.

Your ability to embrace and utilize the medium comes with practice. It’s not rocket science, but you need to experiment to see which strategies and tools will work best for you.

5. Expect response rates to differentiate if it is B2B vs. B2C. Brad says when it comes to business-to-consumer research, you can expect lower response rates than you would in a business-to-business online community.

“B2B participants are usually more invested in the outcome,” he says.

Online communities may take practice and patience, but weaving them into your research process can yield significant results.  As Brad notes, over time, this tool can yield results that other methods can’t — and that’s the kind of data your clients will soon demand.

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Topics: Online Communities, Moderating Online Qualitative

Jane Boutelle

Jane Boutelle

Jane is the CCO and Co-Founder of Digsite, where she and the team provide the first truly social platform for getting consumer insights and user feedback. She has a deep background in software product management and marketing.