Researchers Voice: Getting to Know You – Tips to Creating Productive Qualitative Research Projects Online

Getting to Know You - Tips to Creating Productive Qualitative Research Projects Online

As a veteran qualitative researcher who has loved the in-situ learning opportunity that online qualitative research tools have provided me for more than a decade, I am very excited about the fact that COVID-19 has quickly evened the playing field for both hesitant market research professionals and for consumers who can make great participants. Consumers now know – almost universally — how to use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Instagram, and Facebook. Even Jane Fonda is TikTok-ing!!

Moderating online gives us great opportunity to meet people where they are so they can show who they are, what they do, and what’s most important to them. While as a focus group moderator concerned about security, I will look at more secure options than Zoom or Skype as a platform for my research. I love that online qualitative tools like online bulletin boards, mobile ethnography, and video chat focus groups allow us to literally see what our customers are doing, as well as touch base with them more easily than the organization it takes to do the same in person. Therefore, we can get more insights into their lives as we build greater empathy for our consumers. I personally like online qualitative tools to really get in-context insights.

After more than a decade of using the tremendous power of online qualitative tools; I have found a few steadfast tricks for productive responses and super-engaged participants:

  1. Recruit Online Savvy Individuals Who Actually Enjoy Sharing:

    Your screener for all online and mobile methodologies should not just ask a tiered question about technology access and familiarity but also how participants use and feel about it in their daily lives. People who do not actively post social media photos and videos may not be the best to share in an online bulletin board or community, for instance. I’ve found that certain groups who are adept at online tools like video conferencing and social media for work and other necessary functions are not always comfortable providing the openness we need as moderators to go deeper and learn. Comfort with online and all of the things we share there makes a much better participant in the long run.

  2. ‘Meet’ Participants Ahead of the Groups or Activities:

    Whether via a personal introduction email telling participants about who you are and what they’ll be doing on an online bulletin board or appearing in the ‘virtual lobby’ of a video chat before the group moves into the formal ‘group’s virtual room;’ I make it a point to connect with my participants personally prior to asking them to answer my probing questions with my client’s watching. Participants feel better knowing I’m a ‘real’ person they can talk to. This feels more authentic to me than filming a video of myself. I know many moderators who also like to film a video to post online for the same connection. Do what you feel is most authentic to you. Just make those participating feel that there is a real (and awesome) person who is reading and learning from their posts or discussion.

  3. Present Activities With Choices to Respond Creatively:

    With online bulletin boards and communities, especially, I realize that not everyone is comfortable responding in the same way to my online activities – so while I may want video responses; I am also happy to receive written stories or even Memes. You’ll love the creativity that happens when participants can select which way they want to respond to your projective activity.

  4. Award Creativity with Fun Incentives:

    The more I ask for consumers the more I pay for them. I’ve found making it a fun game to ‘win’ with a trophy such as a $25 gift card or even a fun t-shirt or special exclusive gift encourages even higher quality responses as well. It is important to set up an obvious series of metrics for what makes a successful award-winning post or share from the beginning, so participants can make special efforts. It will also be important to let them know that you award five or 10 awards out of a 20-to-25-person online bulletin board or two awards per five-person video or text-based chat, so they know it’s a friendly competition with real odds to winning.

  5. Ask Multiple Tiered Questions for More Productive Answers:

    Shorter questions will elicit shorter answers. My questions are always multi-faceted so that I introduce the overall question in one simple sentence, but I bullet out more specific questions to ensure I get good details and context from participants. Online qualitative should not ask open-end questions but rather deeper and probing questions that can lead to better discussion. Online qualitative is not like its quantitative counterpart with open-end questions because there is always a way for participants to offer expanded insights.

Researchers Voice: Getting to Know You - Tips to Creating Productive Qualitative Research Projects Online

It’s a great time to be a qualitative researcher who can uncover not just the what-is-happening, but the reasons-why-people feel the way they do. It’s a good time to have some great online conversations!

About Pam Goldfarb Liss

With more than 25+ years of experience; Pam Goldfarb Liss loves the never-know-what’s-happening-next opportunity that comes from interviewing consumers in a variety of contexts. She has moderated on most every subject matter from soda pop and crackers to diabetes meters, smartphones and home appliances. Pam is known for being a creative and savvy moderator who uses a lot of online, face-to-face and mobile tools to connect with consumers where they are using products. Not a pioneer but a huge fan, she has been an advocate for online and mobile qualitative tools since 2007 when the industry was evolving into what it is today. Dedicated to industry best practices, Pam often speaks and writes about online and mobile-enabled qualitative research. She is also an experienced kids and teens moderator who trains others on best practices with this group at RIVA Market Research Institute. Pam is a board director of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA), as well. Pam lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA with her husband and soon-to-be middle school daughter. You can contact Pam at

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