You’d better watch out – Three pitfalls of online qual research and how to handle them

by Alex Culshaw

It’s a boom time for online communities. Yes, Covid helped but this is a trend that was happening anyway – after all, which brand wouldn’t want to get closer to consumers?

So, good news – but beware! The path to online enlightenment can still be fraught with unexpected difficulties requiring agile problem solving from researchers. Reflecting on Spark Market Research’s varied experience of communities, as well as team members’ own experience – all for some of the most well-known brands about – we’ve identified three pitfalls that could trip up even the most experienced researcher plus a view on how to avoid / overcome these. You’re welcome!

Pitfall 1 – Activity creep

You’ve designed a really great research solution, crafted a tip-top proposal and won the pitch. But now stakeholders are so sold on your community that they want to get more and more in – a little addition here and a quick extra task there. The pitfalls here are that 1) we overwhelm respondents and 2) resource required for moderation and analysis tick up. Obviously, there is a need for strong client management but also try to think of how to accommodate requests without incurring equivalent stress – can some questions drop into a pre-task or adjunct depths? Are there existing data sources that can answer the insights needed?

Pitfall 2 – Insights not hitting the button

You’ve designed your platform, recruited your respondents and gone live! But the insights are not quite hitting the mark as you’d like. Sound familiar? Here are two ways of avoiding this. Firstly, consider running an agile pilot dummy platform. This doesn’t necessarily have to be on a fully scripted platform – a proforma version of the topic guide shared with a handful of respondents before scripting and launch can help identify the types of insights respondents might provide. Secondly, it’s important to truly get a handle on why respondents would want to take part. Yes, they may want to help develop a new product but do they also want to hear other’s experiences to reassure themselves? Or pick up a few tips?  Mapping out these jobs to be done can help create an effective value exchange between researchers, clients and respondents.

Pitfall 3 – Beware the insights avalanche 

The community is now closed and it’s time to get to grips with the insights – the debrief is only two weeks away! But as we start to get even deeper into those rich human stories, the actual amount of insights we’ve created is enormous. Add into that mix another proposal to do and some essential business development and, all of sudden, we’re looking at late night analysis powered by caffeine – never ideal! Being prepared for this situation ahead of time will help no end. Practically, making sure we have planned resource effectively is obviously critical. Beyond that, an analysis framework can help no end. What is the overall story we want to tell our client? Is there a sensible way of coalescing disparate insights? What is an understandable way to frame what we’re hearing? One of our favourite frameworks at Spark is What3– this really helps us cut to the case for our clients.

So, there we are – three possible pitfalls and accompanying solutions. Here at Spark we’re realistic enough to know that research doesn’t always go as planned but it’s how you handle this that makes the difference. Our Spark experts know their way around the labyrinth of communities, helping you to create real RoI on research spend.

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