Use Of Video In Online Research

Written by Steve Thompson • Posted on March 28, 2013

We’ve just completed a round of interviews with customers using our Recollective platform to talk about what they anticipate to be important online research capabilities for 2013. Many of those research agencies spoke about the increasing importance of video in their presentation of findings and recommendations.

Unsurprisingly, after discussing the subject with them in more depth and looking back over studies we’ve run in 2012, a number of different approaches and perspectives were used that I think are useful to summarize.

Asynchronous Video Activities

First, since Recollective provides capabilities for asynchronous video, I should also clarify that I’m going to focus on that rather than synchronous approaches such as webcam-based focus groups or one-on-one webcam interviews. Asynchronous video isn’t done in realtime; it’s most often captured by a study participant and done at a time convenient to them. The video is then provided to moderators for review and analysis. The participant uses either a camcorder they own, a device the researcher provides or their smartphone or webcam.

Typically we find that most researchers prefer to mix video activities into a wider qualitative study, but occasionally we have a study that’s entirely video-based. Both seem to work effectively, although in general any study with video activities does tend to require a significantly higher incentive for participants to complete them. For example, one Canadian researcher we’ve worked with distributed an iPod Touch to participants in a mixed video / photo study after which the participant got to keep the device as their incentive payment.

The highest response rates seen in Recollective so far have come from webcam-based activities, possibly because it’s the easiest for participants to complete. Of those, most activities are designed to capture respondents simply talking into the webcam to answer questions. It’s pretty standard stuff, but the researchers we spoke to love how quickly and effectively video highlights from those webcam recordings can get a point across to an end client.


What’s really exciting are the possibilities that the growing global availability of smartphones bring. In recent months, researchers have been using Recollective in more imaginative ways to capture in-the-moment video as a way to watch an individual do something of interest. It’s often relatively simple for participants to complete since they’re already familiar with the device and apps can connect to a phone’s video library to simplify the upload process into a couple of clicks. The subjects can be quite varied and include shopping, working, cooking or trying to use a new product.

For example, a UK researcher recently asked their participants to record “before, during and after” videos from their smartphones centered around grocery shopping over the Christmas period. Other studies have asked parents to video children trying out new packaging and products; we’ve run studies that video participants cooking or include optional video to supplement daily journals. In each of those studies, the researcher was able to use online technology to capture the video, to probe for more information and in some cases, to socialize the videos to other study participants.

Across them all, the best advice seems to be: make the instructions for the video topic as simple as possible. We find that complex, multi-part questions for an individual to remember and address in their video don’t yield great results. It’s much more effective to break the assignment into a few different videos which also has the benefit of making the review and analysis a bit easier for researchers. Also, where it’s not breaking confidentiality or causing discomfort to participants, socialize the videos submitted in the study. That’s particularly important when the study runs for a longer duration (i.e. months) and you can handle the additional insights that the community will generate after watching each others’ videos. Of course, having any community elements in research, whether around video or not, will lead to more data and possibly some unexpected insights but most importantly, it really helps to build connection between participants which in turn stimulates more open and honest responses.

Introductory Videos

Lastly, don’t forget that use of video in online research shouldn’t be limited to only the participants recording video. It can be very effective for the researcher to record a video of themselves both as a welcome message and to introduce and explain activities they want participants to complete. This approach “humanizes” the activity, making it more personal and early evidence from Recollective studies suggest it can also yield a higher response rate. Use the built-in webcam tool to record this kind of video which eliminates the need for complicated conversion or editing.

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