The Time for Online Qualitative is NOW!

Some of our clients remain reluctant to embrace online qualitative methodologies for their projects, even though they could save significant amounts of time and money. Healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, in particular, have concerns about online qualitative’s information privacy practices. Other researchers are also concerned about using online qualitative methodologies despite their successful adoption by marketing researchers for more than 15 years.

One of the reasons that we should not be reluctant to use online qualitative methods is that social media has made online interaction commonplace and comfortable. Online qualitative can appear to respondents to be very similar to their social media experience. And, all of us use social media, to the extent that educators and mental health professionals are concerned that we are using it too much! In fact...

When the Eagles won the Superbowl, my 86 year old mother texted me a GIF… 

Online interactions are a part of our daily interactions and communications. Why should online qualitative be any different? Let’s examine some of the common concerns about online qualitative – and why they should not be concerning:

  • Respondents won’t participate. But they do. Online interactions are completely familiar and natural to consumers.  Pew Research Foundation estimates that over 59% of adults are on social media. And when you consider only adults on the internet, that number rises to about three-quarters. From the same study, fully 70% of users use social media daily and 45% go several times a day, up from 63% who were daily visitors last year. Participating in qualitative research is no different from social media – and much more convenient than going to a focus group facility… 25 miles away from home… in the rain!
  • Online excludes important groups of participants. While that used to be true, the age gap in online and smartphone usage has diminished. In fact, Facebook's latest conquest is older Americans. This year, for the first time, more than half of online adults over 65 were active on social media, and many more were active on the internet in other ways.
  • It’s a new methodology. Remember door-to-door survey takers? Or mail surveys? Yeah, we don’t either. The point is that new methodologies become the norm all the time. When online surveys were introduced, they came in for a lot of criticism from the marketing research industry. And yet, who doesn’t use online surveys in 2018? It is now time to accept the online environment for qualitative data collection, as well.
  • It’s not secure. Making sure online qualitative is secure for respondents is our responsibility (at least according to a new ESOMAR Guideline.) With due diligence and appropriate care, we can ensure a secure online environment for qualitative research and protect respondents’ personal information while complying with all relevant state and federal regulations. Remember, social media is not all that secure, either, and yet our customers feel very secure using social media. The online qualitative experience can easily be made more secure.

Better data? You bet!

Perhaps one of the most surprising reasons to use online qualitative methodologies is that you can actually get better data than in-person. It turns out that women are just as likely to share their opinions and feelings face-to-face as online, while men are much more likely to share their feelings online than in a face-to-face setting, as reported in Time. Psychologist also report that people with mild social anxieties are more comfortable participating in online discussions. So, holding online qualitative discussions with some respondents might actually facilitate the discussion, especially around sensitive topics like rare conditions, sexuality or personal finance.  Additionally, because many online platforms are asynchronous, no one participant can take over the discussion and everyone has all the time they need to say what they want to say. Participants can even go back to an earlier comment – even from the day before – and add additional commentary to complete their response.

The benefits of online qualitative are well documented. These projects cost less than in-person methodologies, with savings in incentives, facility costs, and travel. They are much faster – especially because several can be conducted simultaneously and with larger groups of participants. Thanks to the ubiquitous use of smartphones, conducting online qualitative is easy, allowing for genuine, in-the-moment feedback. And finally, online qualitative methodologies may result in richer, more insightful findings.

Isn’t it time for online qualitative for your next project?

Contact James to learn more!