10 Ways to inspire deeper engagement in online qual

Tom Woodnutt

Tom Woodnutt

Feeling Mutual

Tom Woodnutt is Founder of Feeling Mutual, the agile online and mobile qualitative research specialists. He helps clients and agencies run global studies and offers training in the space. Tom has been a Digital Skills trainer for the Association of Qualitative Researchers (AQR) and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including the MRS, MRMW and IleX.

In face-to-face qualitative research you have a captive audience. Once people sit down, they aren’t going anywhere (although, I did once have a cheeky chap go to the toilet never to return – he may still be there). This is not the case in online qual as participants can drop out at any point. To keep them engaged and inspired you have to go the extra mile.

Here are ten ways to keep people interested:

1. Be nice

Not that you’d ever be nasty, but as anyone who’s misread the tone of an email or text will tell you, written words can come across as blunt or cold. Make the effort to thank every single person on day one of the project and be polite and courteous throughout.

2. Be yourself

Traditional qual research techniques suggest moderators should be neutral and not reveal much about who they are. I’ve found that in online qual the project benefits if you open up a little. Be authentic and personable, whilst remaining professional, as it encourages people to talk to you.

3. Give and you shall receive

If you do a warm-up, ask respondents to say something about who they are, and why not share something about yourself too? The more you give, the more you’ll get in return. Keep probing and by showing an interest in people’s answers, they’ll be motivated to give you more.

4. Build it up

Respondents are not only motivated by money;, they like to feel important and that they’re making a difference. Emphasise how valuable their contributions are to your client. Make sure people feel they are being listened to by responding to them regularly.

5. Build them up

Participants can worry that they’re not giving you what you need. Be sure to build up their confidence by reassuring them that they’re doing a great job and are on track (assuming that they are).

6. Encourage discussion

Qual research is way more fun, and therefore motivating, if people get on with each other. Create space for people to interact and encourage them to comment on what other respondents are saying. Actively asking them to get involved in discussions in the introduction and in your probes helps make this happen.

7. Unleash their creativity

People love to express themselves, so give them a platform to be creative. For example, ask for a hand-drawn picture of how they feel about the brand or category. This also creates compelling visuals for the debrief.

8. Reward good work

As you moderate and come across star participants, who give you lots of detail and emotional insight, make it clear that that’s what you’re after. Openly thank them for putting in so much effort encourages others to raise their game and get some love.

9. Break down incentives

Sometimes it can be more motivating to break tasks down into stages. Respondents will feel more motivated to do the video or next task knowing that they’ve just earned another £10 for doing so.

10. Offer a prize for insightfulness

You can tap into competitive instincts by awarding an additional prize to the most insightful participants. You’d be surprised how much extra value you can get for a relatively small cash investment.

In a nutshell, to get more value from participants you need to demonstrate that you really value them. Being sociable, authentic and warm will result in deeper engagement and higher quality insights.

To find out more about how to master online and mobile qualitative research, please email to book a place on the Masterminds course.

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