What did you say? Four tricks for accessing human truths in online qual research

by Alex Culshaw
Online Community

It’s an age-old problem, dressed in old-aged clothes, drinking an age-old wine (get the picture yet?!). ‘It’ being, how can we trust what research participants say? Group think, social desirability, poor witnesses and a myriad of other biases and stresses, can all influence what we’re told – running the risk of erroneous insights for clients (cue shivers from all research agencies!).   

So, what to do? 

Well, we already know that online communities are a great tool for getting closer to what’s actually going on in consumers’ lives – we don’t need to make that case here. But have we (as a research industry) started to rest on our laurels? Have we become lazy and too reliant on communities to ‘do what they say on the tin’? I’d say so. 

Let’s inject some fresh thinking. What can we – online quallies – do to help ourselves and, in turn help our clients? How can we start to an online community more effectively (excluding any ql/qt integration) and really elicit the stories, narratives and tales from consumers, that we – as independent and objective researchers – can interpret, mould and distinguish between to unpick real vs. reported behaviour for our clients? 

Try these ideas on for size – all based on Spark’s experience of running online communities, of all shapes and sizes, in all sectors and across the globe. 

  • Observation unleashed

Congratulations – you’ve passed the primary and intermediary modules of using observation as a tool for understanding people (i.e. what can we observe that is ‘on-category’ and, what can we observe that is ‘off-category’). But what about that which we don’t observe at all? Our recent study of novice investors in the US helped us understand that the all-important research claimed by investors – was in fact minimal. Only by seeing them not conduct research this could we make strong recommendations to our client.  

  • Scenario setting

Cold questioning might be a good interrogation technique (don’t quote me here!) but what about transporting respondents to a different place / situation – even the future! This future-scaping – and associated respondent ‘freedom to think’ – is something our team used to help a garden equipment manufacturer ideate NPD and keep them ahead of competitors.   

  • Human questions

We all love a chinwag with a friend – over a pint, a cuppa, whatever – so how about superfuelling communities by revealing more of ourselves through video introductions and questions? We’re currently planning a project in the FMCG space using exactly this approach – confident in the expectation that this rapport building tactic from our side will help consumers reveal even more of their hopes, needs & pains and gains. 

  • The long and the short of it 

Implicit association testing is typically associated with quant research – but what about transplanting the logic behind this approach into online communities, as we did recently for a cereal bar brand? Asking simple and speedy binary questions (on perceptions of brand attributes) allowed us to access to real attitudes driven by our System 1 thinking and complemented other more discursive activities. 

So there we have it – four simple ideas to help build better research and more genuine research insights from an online community.

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