6 Tips for Conducting Successful Online Qualitative Research

Online qualitative research still generates skepticism and while much of the world is migrating online, a significant proportion of researchers prefer the comfort of traditional face-to-face focus groups. Interestingly, the difficulties in the online medium are quite similar to on-the-ground methods whether it is difficulty in recruiting panels, structuring the discussion, or figuring out how to expose stimuli to generate honest feedback.

While traditional focus groups are ideal for gauging body language and tactile feedback, online tools have proven their worth in providing speed, iteration, and directional analysis. The ability to test multiple groups across a dispersed geography also makes it significantly less expensive. However, online research can also be unproductive if not conducted well. Qualitative research is especially vulnerable to this due to the subjectivity surrounding open-ended discussions versus straight multiple-choice style quantitative surveys. Structuring your discussion guide with well-defined objectives and using the right online toolset is a key to obtaining valuable insights. Over the past decade, we have helped thousands of clients with our real-time toolset and we offer the following 6 tips to conduct successful online qualitative research:

  1. Have a clear idea what data you want to collect and build your discussion guide accordingly. While some online platforms such as Invoke Live! provide the ability to ask questions on the fly, use this feature to augment your data based on participant responses and not simply as it occurs to you. Data collected without clear objectives could be a wasted opportunity.
  2. An online qualitative study needs to be visually stimulating to make up for the lack of in-room touch and feel. Ensure your stimuli are striking and engaging. While participants stay for complete 60 to 90 minutes of a Live! discussion even with just text-based visuals, our experience is that rich media elements such as animations, videos, and other forms of stimulation create less fatigue and provide enthusiastic feedback.
  3. If you are testing multiple concepts or stimuli, ensure your variations are clearly differentiable. One of our clients in the healthcare industry displayed seven concepts so similar that the responses streaming into the Live! dashboards were virtually indistinguishable. The client did not obtain meaningful directional feedback and wanted to repeat the discussion. We were able to save some cost for this client by helping her improving the variability of the stimuli and using our asynchronous Open tool for the repeat test.
  4. While on testing, ensure a low ratio of concepts tested against the size of your panel. Last year a Fortune 100 client in the software industry tried to test over 50 concepts over a panel of 100 participants within a single 75-minute discussion using the concept rotation feature on Live! However, the effectiveness of the test was diminished due to the impossibility of ensuring adequate exposure to concepts within the panel size and time boundaries.
  5. If your study spans multiple discussions, ensure you accomplish 80% of the groundwork for all discussions in advance. Use the data from each discussion to refine the remaining 20% for the next set of discussions. Most online tools will provide a way to extract the data and analyze it. Live! generates individual and consolidated PowerPoint and Excel reports and interactive dashboards within minutes of completing each discussion and our clients find this extremely helpful with rapid analysis.
  6. Have a clear idea about the types of analysis you would like to do. In most cases, it is possible to take the raw data from an online study and process it with SPSS or similar tools. This is significantly more difficult for qualitative studies since very few tools can process rich verbatim. Live! provides keyword analysis that instantly highlights high-frequency words used by participants during the discussion. In addition, the platform has a drag and drop real-time Analytics tool to filter, segment, and export verbatim to PowerPoint. Make sure to segment participants appropriately within a discussion so that filters are easy to build.

Essentially, the key to success in the online qualitative world is structuring a well thought out discussion guide that can cater to a large audience, building a rich participant experience, and being able to analyze results in real-time. When those pieces are in place, you can then focus your efforts in spotting the interesting nuggets that provide direction for your concepts.

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