Social Media Research, co-creation and beyond – the best new online qualitative tools

Advances in technology, coupled with the rise of social media, have led to a proliferation of new and exciting qualitative research techniques. They offer fast-turnaround, cost effective insights to clients; plus ease of use, convenience and increased engagement to participants. It’s easy to see why online qualitative research is becoming an invaluable part of the market researchers’ toolkit – forming bridges between quantitative research, web listening and other information sources.

Online qualitative research techniques can be used for one-off ad hoc projects, or for frequent use among online communities.

Here are a few examples of the tools, processes and research techniques that DigitalMR has developed over the last 18 months and used to help clients better interact with their communities and their customers:

Online Chat Groups – more than simply “focus groups online” online chat groups offer many advantages over the traditional format. Participants are able to view video and hear audio of the moderator, chat among themselves in real time and type answers to the moderator’s questions. The online platform enables live capture of typed comments for automatic transcription. And because answers are typed, it allows participants to respond simultaneously to a moderated question, without having to wait for each other to finish speaking.  This results in double or even triple the volume of feedback compared to live voice interaction. The moderator can also prompt those who responded to get additional feedback in a much faster way.

There are significant advantages to this in terms of turnaround of results - the speed and volume of data processing is significantly increased and word clouds can be created automatically with the most-used words and phrases made larger to graphically highlight their importance.

It is also a very cost effective way to engage with difficult to reach sample across different time-zones and geographies. We have found, for example, while using this technique with time-poor C-Suite executives, they enjoyed interacting with their peers and would be happy to repeat the process again.

In-Depth Interviews, pairs and triads – a similar format can be used for longer, more in-depth interviews of 30-60 minutes. For a full and open discussion, the platform allows participants to see/hear each other and the moderator through video and audio at all times. It is simple for participants to set-up using web cam and computer microphones (or speakers and headsets).

Another advantage of this technique is that the platform enables complex visuals to be shown onscreen to stimulate discussion, and virtual whiteboards can be set up to record feedback, summarise and prompt further debate.

Forum/Bulletin Board Discussion – this technique, used for groups of 15-25 people, utilises a “facebook” look and feel so participants feel at home straight away. A research project usually lasts around 1-2 weeks and its main advantage over the previously mentioned methods is that it is asynchronous – meaning participants can respond to the moderator or each other at a time when it suits them, they are not constrained by when the questions are asked.

The forum can be moderated, participants can interact among themselves, and they can upload photographs and share experiences - basically forming a micro-community which can be re-activated for further research.

Online ethnography, video/photo diaries – derived from social anthropology techniques, ethnography involves observing participants in their natural settings which can provide very useful insights, especially when combined with findings from other research sources.

Technology allows us to take online ethnography to the next level. With the help of web cams, tablets, smartphones and mobile handsets we are able to collect observational information (video clips, photos) alongside audio commentaries.

These techniques are much less intrusive then traditional methods, faster and cheaper. We have found online ethnography especially useful to gain deep insights around new product testing and product development.

Online stimuli evaluation – usually offered in online communities, this method can offer up a variety of images online – web pages, video clips, software, screen grabs etc - for comment and evaluation by members. This can be developed into hybrid quant approach by allowing larger numbers of participants to easily highlight graphically, what they like or dislike about the images shown to them.

All these newly evolving online qualitative research methods are not only great tools, they can also specifically be used for co-creation within the context of an online community or on an ad-hoc basis. Online communities can be short, medium or long term from a couple of weeks to a number of years. They can be an integral part of a social media research plan that may also involve active web listening, and traditional online marketing research around social media. Staff and customers alike can get more involved in generating new ideas, for products, services and communications and be kept updated on developments. In this way online qualitative techniques can help convert influential participants into brand advocates, allowing them to become much more engaged and feel part of a brand’s “inner circle”.




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