A common misconception about online qualitative research is that you lose the rapport with participants. This is simply not true – you can develop great relationships in online groups, now that people are so used to communicating online via Facebook and other social networks. Online qual allows you to gather open, honest responses and get deeper, richer insights.
A client, new to online qual, recently told me that, after completing a week-long pre-task on the platform, she visited her participants for some at home in-depth interviews. She was welcomed into several participant’s homes with hugs, as if greeting old friends, because of the warm and trusting relationships she had formed online.
So here are our top tips for breaking through the fourth wall and building rapport with your online participants in a Liveminds project.
Send an introductory email
It’s important to introduce yourself to the participants before the project begins and inform them that they will be using an online platform to respond. This ensures participants have a seamless journey into the platform and that they also have a chance to raise questions about the research. Later in the project, when the time comes to moderate, participants will feel comfortable as they will recognise your name. We provide a template email, for all Liveminds projects, with important instructions for using the platform – but be sure to personalise this and make it your own!
Add a photo or video to introduce yourself
They say ‘never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself’. If you want to peek into the lives of your participants through pictures and videos, allow them to put a face to a name too! Be it a simple headshot or an introductory video, it makes participants feel comfortable and assures them that there is a real person at the other end, reading their responses. Your content can also give them an idea of the quality of media uploads that you are expecting throughout the project.
Be chatty and colloquial
Try not to stick to the formalities of ‘question and answer’ just because you are writing text rather than speaking. Welcome participants to the new day of a diary or recommend a new music album you think they would enjoy – be your usual chatty self. Remember to stick to easy to understand terms, participants are not researchers after all and you don’t want to isolate anyone.
Actively moderate with words of encouragement as well as probes
We understand that you may be pressed for time when moderating but if you come across a response that has really hit the nail on the head, don’t forget to say thanks! Participants will develop an understanding of the quality of responses you are looking for, and everyone likes to know they are on the right track!
Keep in touch outside of the platform
It is important to keep in touch outside of the platform so you can make sure that everything is running smoothly. Send a mid-project email thanking everyone for their efforts and remind them of the project closing date so they can manage their time effectively. On the final day of the project, send a gentle reminder that ‘today is the last day for responses’, to avoid a mad rush at the end!
It’s important to remember to keep things fun! Be confident and friendly with your participants and soon enough, you’ll feel like you’ve been friends for years!