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Why Audience Matters for Online Qualitative Research

Your qualitative research strategies should depend on your audience

Moderators tend to have their favorite ways to conduct online qualitative research. But do these strategies differ depending on the demographics of your online participants? They should. Here are the best approaches to use for certain online audiences.

It is true that millennials are typically more tech-savvy than boomers. And it makes sense for a public relations professional, for example, to spend more time at a computer than a dairy farmer. But does this make one audience more valid than another for online qualitative research?

The answer is no, according to Layla Shea, of Upwords Marketing Solutions. “If anybody has a computer or mobile device, they can be an amazing participant,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean millennials and business professionals won’t respond to different tactics tailored to their individual demographics. Failing to choose the right strategy for the right audience could mean losing out on insightful data.

Here are some ways to best appeal to online community participants based on their ages and professions.


Younger people are often more tech-savvy than an older demographic, so how you communicate with participants in an online research study can vary depending on their ages.

Here are some ways millennials and boomers may act differently in online communities, and how to use these behaviors to your advantage:

  1. Younger people are more comfortable with video cameras. Compared to boomers, millennials appear to be more comfortable with video cameras as a research tool.

    This is not to say older people do not participate if they are asked to submit a video post. They do, but they may tape a recording up to five times before submitting, whereas younger people record one take and post it right away. Teens are especially comfortable with this medium.

    If an upcoming study of yours involves mostly boomers, it may be a good idea to steer away from video camera usage. Instead, choose a medium that is more comfortable for them. It could mean they deliver more insightful answers.

  2. For millennials, keep instructions clear and to the point. Young people have less patience than older people, so they tend to skim instructions instead of thoroughly reading them. They want to be in and out of the study quickly.

    Boomers, on the other hand, tend to be more thorough. They have no problem spending a lot of time in community discussions, as long as they are comfortable with the technology.

    Feel free to be more thorough in your instructions with a boomer audience.

  3. Boomers prefer more guidance. How you execute activities in your online community can depend on the age of your audience.

    For example, if working with millennial participants, you can instruct them to Google a photo that best resembles their feelings about a product and expect a quality turnaround.

    But those instructions may fluster a community of older participants who are less comfortable with technology. Instead, offer a selection of images and direct them to pick which one best represents their mood.

    Millennials are, for the most part, more “independent” when it comes to using the internet. Design your activities in a way that won’t bore a young audience, but won’t overwhelm an older one.


Professional demographics do not vary in the significant ways that age demographics do, with one exception -- business-to-business.

Here is how communicating with professionals in business-to-business online research differs from interacting with an average consumer:

  1. Keep everything short, sweet and to the point. Businesspeople do not like to waste time, so make sure your instructions and questions are concise and direct.

    It also doesn’t hurt to pinpoint how contributing can benefit your participants professionally. For example, emphasize how online communities expand networking opportunities.

  2. Avoid projective techniques. Some moderators are big fans of the projective technique. An example of this technique is to ask participants to select a photo of a movie star or an object to represent their feelings about a brand.

    While this is a very common and insightful consumer research strategy, using it in a business-to-business community may come across as unprofessional. You may want to avoid it.

  3. Synchronous research is more common. In business-to-business research, it is more common for a moderator to “explore” the topic before narrowing down specific questions to ask in an online community.

    This is where “synchronous” research comes in. In this type of research, moderators will set up concurrent phone or video interviews with individual participants to gauge what aspects of a topic are important.

    After the moderator has a firm understanding of the important aspects of a topic, he or she can continue with his or her “asynchronous” research (when participants contribute data at different times) in an online community or discussion board.

Other than business-to-business interactions, Layla says there are not any significant tricks or tactics to keep in mind when communicating with a certain professional audience. She believes anyone can be a great participant if they understand the technology.

“Matching up the right people to the right topic is when the magic happens,” Layla says.

Bearing in mind the age and profession of your online audience could help you gather richer data if you take advantage of the tips listed above. But in the end, matching the right strategy to your audience is the best way to produce significant results.

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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.