We are big believers that every qualitative research method has its pros and cons. Researchers need to use the right ones at the right times to get the insights they need. Face-to-face research has the obvious advantage of enabling you to see the ‘whites of the participants eyes’ and read their body language. Online qualitative research enables participants to give greater consideration to their responses and go into greater depth. Mobile enables you to be there ‘in the moment’ with participants and capture thoughts and experiences with rich, emotive media.
The odd one out is live online focus groups. They don’t enable you to do anything better, bar extending geographic reach.
They are really just a less effective way of doing face-to-face research. In doing so, they recreate many of the failings of face-to-face research whilst offering almost no upside. Yet we're often asked about them as an option, perhaps because the concept feels like the closest thing to the focus groups of old.
So, I thought it might save people who are new to online qual research, some time and angst to explain the many advantages of ‘asynchronous’ online qual research over live online focus groups.
1. Participants can think before they speak and say what they mean
Online qual research platforms enable participants to perfectly express themselves. In the same way you might want to when writing an important email or a letter to a family member. Live online focus groups give participants even less time to consider their responses than face-to-face groups, because they have to think about typing too.
2. Nobody loses the thread of the conversation
We’ve all had conversations over Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp or the like where the person you're talking to is two lines behind you. You’re out of sync and it’s frustrating. Multiply that feeling by eight – now you have a live online focus group.
3. You get everyone’s opinion on every subject
An enormous value add of online qual research is that you actually get two hours of input from your participants, not just two hours of their time. If you are running a live group, your two hours is split between eight people. You get 15 minutes per person. So you have 8X more opportunity to gather insight from the participants you are paying incentives to.
4. Never miss a trick
When you're cramming everything into a two-hour conversation, things are going to get missed. By you, and by all the participants. Things that could turn out to be key to your research. If your project is running over several days you need never miss an opportunity. You can stay agile from start to finish and make sure that the really important points get explored fully. No more ‘I should have asked that!’ moments.
5. Transcripts are much easier to analyse
In online qual research, conversations can flow naturally. You aren’t jumping from one person to the next or one subject to the next. This makes it easier to read whilst you're moderating and while you’re analysing, whether you do that online or off.
6. Conversations can fit around participants’ busy lives
We all know how difficult it is to set aside two hours to do something. Spreading out engagement into small bite size pieces is more convenient for everyone – researchers and participants. After all, who really wants to be spending their evenings working? Online qual research fits in seamlessly with people’s busy lives - on the work commute, on the sofa after dinner and so on…and that means higher engagement and response rates too.
7. Typing speed doesn’t matter
It's maddening if your ability to make a valid point is hampered by the fact that you can’t type as fast as somebody else that really likes the look of their own type. It’s the online equivalent of being drowned out by someone in the group with a foghorn voice. Take out the pressure of the live environment and everyone gets an equal opportunity to say their piece.
8. Massively reduced tech challenges
Many companies that provide technology pretend that it always works. As users we know only too well that’s not the case. We also know that things involving technology that need to happen ‘right now,’ for many people, simultaneously, are almost always a disaster. Think back to the last conference call you had. Did it get started at 2pm on the dot, or was there 10 minutes of messing around while someone couldn’t get a connection, someone else had lost the code etc. Now multiply that by eight. That’s a live online focus group for you.
Of course with online qual, things can go wrong too – emails get delayed, internet connections will drop temporarily, but without the pressure of live time, you’ll hardly ever notice.
9. Faster turnaround
Ask yourself which is easier to do - find eight people who can all be available at exactly the same time for a full two hours, or to find eight people with 30 minutes to spare in their day? Especially if they're busy professionals?
10. Moderation is much easier
Another common sense benefit is that moderating is much easier when eight people are not all trying to talk at the same time. You have time to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s easier to ensure that you're able to spend time speaking with each of the participants and get a more balanced perspective from the group. It requires one of you, not two. You can also use more junior researchers if you want to.
11. Reduced group effect
As any researcher knows, a domineering voice in a focus group can have a real impact on the conversation and be very hard to manage effectively. This is felt more keenly face-to-face but is still a problem in live online focus groups. Peer pressure follows through. The fact that people can be instantly shot down for their views can skew their behaviour. This problem doesn’t completely disappear if you are having group conversations on an online qual platform but the fact that platforms like Liveminds enable you to discuss potentially sensitive/controversial subjects privately, or indeed, to switch in an instant, if you aren’t getting what you want from a group conversation, massively reduces the impact.
12. Distractions don’t matter
Taking away the time sensitivity means it doesn’t matter if a participant gets temporarily distracted and stops focusing. They won’t lose the thread. Let’s face facts – however engaging your subject and moderation is, if they're at home, there's a chance that they will be momentarily distracted by their phone ringing, their children interrupting, the kettle boiling…with asynchronous online qual research this makes no difference – they simply re-engage their minds and carry on as before. In a live online focus group, they would fall completely out of sync with the conversation.
13. You have flexibility and control
Liveminds enables you to switch from 'private' to 'group' to 'open' conversations in seconds. Yet everything is kept neatly organised in the context of the subject matter you're investigating. This means you can always use the best format to get the best responses from your participants. And that means better results for you and your clients.
Download ‘A researcher’s guide to online qual’ to see how you can get valuable insight from engaged participants from the comfort of your own home.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of online qualitative research or to find out more about how Behavioural Recruitment finds engaged participants for online research get in touch - We’d love to talk with you!