Online Qualitative @SCALE

Written by Josh Barr • Posted on July 31, 2019
Pexels photo 1438072

In today’s insights landscape, where researchers and organizations are trying to understand human behaviour and experiences at a level of scale and efficiency, technology offers the best approach to get at the why behind the what and derive understanding from experiential landscapes.

Let’s look at how online qual communities can be leveraged at scale in 3 different respects:

  1. Conversational Approaches to Research
  2. Growing Importance and Impact of Video
  3. Balancing Technological Capabilities with Methodology

1. Conversational Approaches to Research

Put simply, you can facilitate an on-going conversation with 500 people, have one-on-one conversations with 500 different people or any variation thereof. The two-way communication aspect (versus the one way format of surveys) allows you to get deeper explanations and clarify any ambiguities or uncertainties.

What people tend to forget is that qualitative research online is a focused extension of what is done regularly in lots of other online situations. Think about the last time you purchased something online, your process might have followed something like:

  • Checking the ratings (e.g. average rating, distribution of ratings, etc.)
  • Reviewing and analyzing the comments (maybe with respect to the ratings of interest)
  • Interacting with a Q&A section if made available
  • Looking at photos / videos verified customers have uploaded
  • Signing up for a free trial or trial period if offered

The first point is explicitly quantitative in approach but all the other ones are qualitative and necessary to truly understand the context behind the ratings. This cogent example demonstrates our preference for things outside of the numbers. The implication here from a research standpoint is that we shouldn’t be doing more and longer surveys, we should instead be creating immersive and conversational environments to better explore experiences.

In the same way you wouldn’t go through every post, rating and comment on social media to participate meaningfully, online qual often demands some quant:

  • Filters to help manage the volume of responses and control what / who’s data to review
  • Excerpting and coding tools that help organize and refine unstructured data
  • Things like @mentioning and #hashtags to drive group conversation

2. Growing Importance and Impact of Video

Video is now one the default ways people share experiences and express themselves online and has huge potential for qualitative understanding as a medium. Videos can also help in validation efforts during both recruitment and in-field:

  • To ensure people are who they say and are desirable participants
  • By having people express themselves candidly (which sheds light on and brings coherence to written data)
  • Getting people to catalogue relevant experiences (in the moment)

Being able to supplement your data story with video testimonials from real people can provide the needed connection between end-clients / decision makers and the stakeholders they rarely get to interact with. There’s the obvious time saving aspect of doing video collection online, versus in-person, but there’s tools that help process the quantity of video as well like:

  • Video to text transcription allowing you to use word clouds to mine for potent themes
  • Excerpting and coding of the transcript creating video clips for highlight reels
  • Going to relevant parts of videos for first-hand review (playback speed to streamline)

Looking to the future, technology will only continue to serve this end and allow for things like:

  • Sentiment analysis that can be done from a video audio portion
  • Live video streaming engagements to get closer to the moments of relevance
  • AI that will be able analyze micro expressions etc. quicker and with more accuracy and consistency than practitioners

3. Balancing Technological Capabilities with Methodology

Online qualitative technologies allow for a larger reach of people but also in more specific settings. Going online means you can utilize both asynchronous and synchronous approaches for the data benefits and conveniences they offer. Collecting data during the moment of relevance provides a more accurate picture than recall data ever could – especially when this concerns feelings tied to an experience.

  • Immersive approaches will always be more accurate than a contrived simulation
  • Relevant pretences of when, where and why are tailored appropriately
  • An online environment is accessible continuously and on-the-go

Looking towards the future, the ability to hone in on the moment will only be enhanced with geo-fencing and location based technologies. For the time being however, the need for experiential insights that are drawn from a large volume of precise and authentic data is quite the demand – but online qualitative helps by:

  • Empowering better understanding on human behaviour and experiences at scale
  • Ensuring that the why isn’t absent from insight deliveries and recommendations
  • Enables subsequent business decisions to be made with an informed context

In a big data world where behaviors can be mapped out at scale, data and insights expectations rise while timelines shrink, online qualitative technology is a must in order to facilitate the needed depth, volume and precision that is demanded.

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