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Online Qualitative Research Platforms

By Tamara Irminger Underwood

The disruptions to how and where people can gather due to COVID-19 has definitely upended how market research is conducted. While online qualitative research platforms have been around for years, they have really come into their own since the pandemic.

With so many online qualitative platforms available to researchers, it’s a good time to classify the various platforms and highlight the distinctions. Seeing that many of these newer ways of conducting market research are here to stay, the sooner researchers and recruiters can learn the features and benefits of the various platforms, the less confusion there will be. Keep in mind that, similar to traditional qualitative research methodologies, online methodologies share a lot in common with each other.

Some of the key differentiators between online qualitative research methodologies is when the research takes place; where the participants are recruited from; and, what is the medium of data capture.

1. Online (Virtual) Focus Groups

Online, or virtual, focus groups are structured similarly to in-person focus group discussions.

Online focus group platforms typically have features that allow the moderator to share images, video, or audio with the participants, as well as break-out chat rooms to further the conversation.

While online focus groups may not feel as natural as meeting in person, there are benefits to online platforms that are not available to offline methods. Some of these benefits include: Recruiting is much easier and less expensive; moderators can have private conversations in secure chat rooms with select participants; and clients can easily observe and send questions or areas to probe further to the moderator through private chat channels. They are also an excellent format for remote UX studies.

2. Bulletin Boards or Discussion forums

What sets bulletin boards and discussion forums apart from online focus groups is they are asynchronous. Rather than being completed during a set time slot, boards can run over a period of days or weeks. Moderators will add questions or tasks to be completed at varying times, and then engage by responding to individual answers.

Participants are prompted or reminded to respond through automated messages via email, SMS or mobile push notifications. They also typically receive alerts when the moderator or another participant replies to one of their comments.

3. Mobile Ethnography and Diary Platforms

Mobile diaries and mobile ethnography platforms are a powerful tools for researchers to access in-context insights. Similar to bulletin boards or discussion forums, participants may be asked to upload a video immediately after completing a task or be pinged with questions to answer throughout the day. Mobile ethnography and diary apps are a great tool for capturing ‘in the moment’ insights, and keeping diaries on specific topics or activities, such as customer journeys.

4. Insight Communities

Insight communities are comprised of groups of consumers who are actively engaged with a brand, activity, or interest group and agree to share their experiences and provide in-depth, qualitative feedback.

For commercial brands, companies often fund the costs to set-up and support the community in exchange for ongoing insights. Keep in mind that these communities don’t have staying power if not actively managed. Participants will drop out if not provided ongoing activities and questions.

Insight communities can also be set up around certain interest groups or professions such as ‘Chief Information Security Officers’ or ‘Outdoor camping enthusiasts’. Hosting interest-based communities is a great way to engage with enthusiastic participants who are often eager to share their insights.

In our next post we’ll explore four additional online qualitative market research platforms: Chatbot Groups, User Testing Research, Live-streaming, and Syndicated Research.

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