At Further, we know a thing or two about qualitative research. In fact, we live and breathe online qual. We eat and drink qual. We really, really love qual. Last week, because we want everyone else to love qual as much as we do, we conducted the first ever Qual Research Clinic, to spread that love around a little.
We invited researchers and strategists to ask us their questions about research methodologies, operations and technology – and we were blown away by the excitement that our attendees had about qualitative research, and by the range and variety of the questions that we got asked.
We covered topics in the session such as the best way to interact with young children in online research communities, how research teams can better help brands and agencies connect in COVID-19 world and the best way to migrate your focus group discussion guide to online tasks and activities.
One of the main questions that came our way was:
What is the best way to ensure strong engagement in your online qual research project?
We love this question, and not just because we have an answer that has a cute acronym. We believe that every project begins with a 100% engagement, and it is up to you and your team to ensure that this is maintained and supported as the project progresses. In our experience there are four key pillars of engagement to focus on.
It’s all about the RIDE: Recruit. Incentivise. Design. Engage.
We’re sharing our RIDE method (cute, huh?) with you here to ensure that you get the most from your qualitative research, and that taking part is a great experience for your participants.
Everything starts with recruitment. You only get out what you put in. To get the right insights, you need to speak to the right people. Not only do your participants need to have the relevant blend of experiences, emotions or behaviours you are interested in, but they also need to be sufficiently confident and articulate, and keen to share with others. When selecting your sample and designing your screener, it is paramount that you think about who this group may be and the characteristics that you can use to identify them.
Ask yourself, “What sort of people can help us solve this insight question?”
Sub questions that can help are:
- What are the common characteristics that relate to this experience, emotion or behaviour?
- How would these individuals identify themselves?
- Are there subsets within a main group which can be used to provide a control or comparison within the sample?
Crucially you also need to think, “Who do I not want in this group?” Once you are clear about that, you can think about the questions or attitudinal statements you can use to screen those individuals out.
We recommend talking with your recruitment consultant; their expertise can be the difference between running a smooth project with a full sample, and realising, mid-project, that you’ve been catfished – that bearded, avocado-toast-eating hipster you thought you were interviewing is actually a retired grandmother who does loads of research to get the incentives - and you have no time to re-recruit.
Finally, when recruiting your sample, you must clearly lay out the expectations for your study. If you are going to require the group to take part in a shopping mission, or any sort of extra activity, you need to signpost this from the start. You don’t need to give them the activity guide but a clear outline of what you require is a must. If you manage expectations from the start, you will attract people who are committed, and less likely to drop out - informed participants are happy participants.
We might want to believe that participants are overjoyed to give up their time for free, for the pleasure of taking part in our beautifully designed and fascinating study about washing powder. However, surprisingly, this is rarely the case. Not everyone loves qual as much as we do. No matter how loyal or excited participants may be, you always need to incentivise.
In consumer research, cash (or vouchers) will always be king. For a seven day study, with twenty minutes participation a day, we recommend an incentive of around £80 per person. If you add in bespoke missions or more time intensive tasks, you will need to offer more. Specialised samples, such as people working in healthcare, will generally be more expensive to incentivise as their time is scarce and they typically get a lot of requests.
Try not to skimp on incentives; they are a key method in making sure that your participants feel valued and that their time in the project is worthwhile. If you don’t have sufficient budget, spot prizes linked to ‘best entry for an activity’ or ‘participation in the study overall’ can help keep people engaged to the end...which is when you announce the winners.
Sometimes it is not possible or necessary to offer cash. In some B2B research, for example, employees are not permitted to accept cash incentives. In research where there is a lot of good will around taking part, such as research that has a social benefit, you may be able to get away without payment. In situations such as these, you can be creative about other types of incentive you can offer.
It is bad practice to offer goods or services which might bias a participant toward delivering skewed data. However it can be very effective to feed your insights back into the project at various stages. Many people love to learn about themselves and participants can be as interested in the findings as your clients. In longer term studies, if you share learnings with the group, this in turn may be a useful tool in further exploration.
Finally, ensure you are empowering your participants and showing your appreciation for their efforts at every point possible, regardless of incentive method. Generally, people want to help and share, especially if they have taken the time to get through your screening process. Showing them kindness and respect will emotionally engage them and keep them coming back to your project day after day.
Perhaps one of our favourite topics at Further...so much so that we will be brief here. Having spent so long selecting the right participants, it is vital that you engage them in activities that are interesting and fun, as well efficient at gathering the insight you need. For more information on design we suggest checking out our newly released design templates (which are packed full of tips and inspiration) in our client resource area AND a recent webinar we gave on converting your focus groups into exciting asynchronous qual research.
So we’ve gathered the audience, set the stage, and written the script. The fourth and final pillar of engagement is all about the performance itself. Your participants are online and busily interacting with your activities, and it is now up to you and your team to keep them engaged all the way through to the end of the project.
The first 24 hours is crucial in terms of moderation. Make sure that you welcome each participant individually (usually in an introductory activity) and share something about yourself or comment in a friendly and personal manner. It’s much harder to build rapport online, so you have to bring all of your energy and charisma to your project and, in particular, to that first greeting. Your responses will set the tone for the study. You need to show them that someone is listening, and that you care about what they have to say. Time is of the essence; make sure you engage as soon as you can.
As with all qual, you need to build rapport and trust so you can dig deep into people’s personal ideas, behaviours and emotions. Just as with offline qual, you have to give something of yourself, so feel free to share personal experiences or information that helps participants feel at ease – being careful not to lead them or otherwise introduce biases. As there is a lack of physical cues, make use of emphatic language, emoticons or even videos to share your personality, warmth and energy.
After the initial 24 hour period, we teach our qualies to moderate a question when it is:
- Interesting (and deserves extra exploration)
- Wrong (as in it does not answer the question set out)
- Unclear (you are not sure what is being said)
Some responses may need nothing more than an acknowledgment that they have been read (many platforms have emojis that can be used here), whilst others might deserve a sincere ‘Thank you for sharing this’.
Ultimately your aim here is to convey the same sense of energy and engagement that you might if you were in the same room as your participant. If they enjoy speaking with you then they will keep on doing so.
So remember – it’s all about the RIDE. If you can build these four pillars, your participants will be engaged, and your projects will gather the insights that you and your clients need, which means that you will get to keep on doing more and more lovely, lovely qual. And what could be better than that?
If you have any questions about anything in this article, drop us an email here or jump on board in our next online qual clinic.