We as market researchers go to great lengths to protect the anonymity of our participants and follow careful guidelines because we know it's something that consumer's value. Yet when we consider whether to conduct our qualitative research online or face to face we often prefer as researchers to strip that anonymity away to see the whites of the participant's eyes. But there are many important benefits of gathering qual insight in an online environment:
Everyone is equal; depriving participants of being able to observe each other strips away a lot of information that we use to form pre-conceptions, to establish social status, and to fit people into stereotypes. Everyone interacts on a more even footing and it's much easier to capture a balanced range of opinions.
What you see in an online environment is people moving much more quickly to sharing their opinions, there is much less need to warm them up as they are empowered to share what they think without being judged.
Consumers are more relaxed in the comfort of their homes, filling time on a holiday, making the most of their lunch break - participants choose to take part where ever is convenient making them more relaxed -giving easy access to their true feelings.
We can be more polarised
Something important to be aware of in online research - a symptom of the open, relaxed, equal environment is the veracity of some of the comments you witness - whether they are heavily critical or heavily positive, you will more than often see opinion in online qual dragged to the extremes rather than the (boring, un-illuminating!) centre.
We are less engaged
So we are online and no one's watching so there is nothing to stop us just checking Facebook, emails, and Twitter whilst we are taking part right? Well, wrong - in a live chat environment the moderator will have you continuously engaged and in a diary for example you are engaged with the task at hand, pick that tools and the right questions and you will see highly motivated and interested participants, even topics that might appear 'dry' to a customer at first look can be brought to life with the right approach e.g. by facilitating peer to peer interaction.
We dispense with social niceties
Twitter has become famous for trolling and insults and in an entirely unregulated environment things can get very nasty, but online research is a very structured and shepherded affair that allows for freely shared opinion that is on topic. So, I would say if they don't like (or love!) your service, they sure will tell you in an online environment as you reduce the desire to please that you see in a face to face setting. But they will do it in a constructive way as they have branding and environmental cues to guide them. A skilled moderator can achieve great depth, bang on topic.
Of course taking advantage successfully of this anonymous environment can be helped or hindered by the tool that you are using to engage your participants - pick the right tool and you can exercise the right level of control, shepherding, engagement and fun to make anonymity your biggest advantage.
For more information, you can read the MRS Guidelines for online research. To book a free trial of the FlexMR research platform and make use of our wide range of quant & qual tools, click here. Or, click here to read more about our services, and the flexible service levels we can provide.