Maximize Consumer Engagement in Online Qualitative

How does one create robust, thoughtful and engaging discussions for qualitative research when it’s all remote? You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

It’s an online world out there…

We’ve all come to rely more heavily on online qualitative to either complement or (temporarily) replace in-person discussions. More business issues than ever before are being addressed by online qualitative. There can be some challenges with online qualitative in keeping consumers engaged, and some new habits are needed. Here are some of our best practices for keeping engagement and participation high throughout the discussion based on 10+ years of moderating online discussions: 

  • Let each participant know you are reading what they type and that their opinion truly matters to you

There are clearly moderators out there who do not actively moderate and engage in their online community discussions. What tells us that? Some respondents seem to assume no one is paying close attention! Those respondents are in for a rude awakening in our community discussions. To prove we’re paying attention, every community starts with a simple introductory question, then we provide a meaningful comment on each and every one of those responses. We also make a point of asking follow-up questions early in the discussion to emphasize that we genuinely want to hear from each person. Once we’ve set the expectation, the community runs much more smoothly and, more importantly, provides richer insights.

  • Acknowledge the group’s contributions throughout the discussion

We make a point of starting each new day by restating some key takeaways from the day before. Not only does that show we are actively listening, but it may also get people curious about what other respondents are saying. This can help to increase the overall level of discussion and engagement in the group.

  • Demonstrate empathy when asking more personal or emotional questions, and you’ll be rewarded with richer responses

Online bulletin boards allow consumers to log in and answer the questions each day when it best fits with their schedule. If they want to answer the questions over their morning coffee or their evening wine, they choose the time to engage and can engage in full. When consumers are ready to engage, it’s our job to ask meaningful questions that show empathy, and they’ll provide more thoughtful and in-depth responses.

Let’s talk through an example. If you ask a direct and rational question about financial stressors, you’ll get a direct, rational answer. (E.g., Question: “When you think about your finances, what stresses you?” Response: “Being able to pay my bills” or “Saving enough for retirement.”) In contrast, if you acknowledge that everyone’s experiences are unique and each situation is different, you’re showing empathy and encouraging consumers to dig deeper. (E.g., Question: “Last year brought a lot of changes to all of our lives, but how things have changed for each of us can be vastly different. As you think about your financial situation, how much stress are you feeling right now and what are the things that cause you stress?” Now you might hear about someone’s concerns over possibly losing their job or their struggle to find an affordable yet larger apartment for their family.)

  • Mix up the types of questions and activities to keep it interesting

If all of your activities are straight question and answer, that can get a bit tedious for participants. Mix it up to keep engagement levels high. Show a picture and get associations or ask participants to upload a picture that matches their aspirations about a particular topic. Try whiteboard activities with a mark-up tool, ranking exercises, thank-you letters from their future self, etc. With most online qualitative tools now, there are a wealth of options available.

As an example, you can ask someone how they define “a successful life” for themselves, or you can ask them to write a thank you letter from their future self. Maybe something like: “Dear me, now that I’m 65, I can’t help but reflect back on my life. I’m so proud that I was able to _____ and ____. I never would have gotten to where I’m at if I hadn’t _____. Earlier in life, I thought ____ would hold me back, but I was able to overcome it by doing _______.” Writing the letter will likely be a more thought-provoking activity for consumers. 

Let’s Talk! We’re all ears.

We hope this inspires you to think creatively about how to get the most out of online qualitative discussions. If you have a project in mind, we’d be happy to discuss it with you. And if you have other tips you’d like to share, please do.