The 5 Absolute, No Excuse, Must-do’s for Online Qualitative Researchers

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Online qualitative research can be challenging given all the factors necessary for a successful project. You have to juggle logistics, multiple objectives, and client expectations, all while searching for the holy grail of insight. Here at iModerate, we’ve learned a few things over the years that can help you defend against potential hazards, and set yourself and your clients up for success.

Coordinate and Communicate
Too often we have seen research projects crumble simply due to poor internal planning and organization. So how are you set up to succeed? If you don’t have an effective project management structure, then your project might be doomed from the start. But there are simple and small organizational changes you can make to really help guard against most internal gaffes. Start by assigning a dedicated team for each project, and make it clear to the client as to who will be responsible for what. A single point person who serves as the main liaison is crucial. Then, try putting a project checklist into play to keep everything transparent and everyone on task. Impromptu communication is great, but don’t be shy about scheduling regular check-ins at specific points in the project lifecycle. This will help keep objectives front and center, and scrambles at bay. Finally, work upfront to designate preferred communication channels both internally and with the client. It seems simple, but having an internal IM tool, or a dedicated line for clients in field can make world of difference in the fast-paced world of online qualitative.

Kick Ass on Kick-Off Calls
You’re a researcher, so research. Ask questions, listen, probe a little deeper, and look at things from multiple vantage points. It’s not just about the stated research objectives, it’s about where this research and the possible outcomes fit in their business, what would surprise them, and what would make them feel like the smartest person in the room. At iModerate, we hold the kick-off calls with all project team members, so everyone has a chance to explore and to ensure everyone hears it directly from the client’s mouth. Simply put, going through the motions on these calls makes you a vendor, but being inquisitive and understanding  your client’s business and research objectives inside and out, makes you a partner.

Find Them, Know Them, Manage Them
The art and science of sampling and knowing your audience is imperative. You can have the best moderators and qualitative experts on your team, but if they aren’t set up to succeed with a comprehensive sampling effort, your project will be strained from the get-go. Knowing your audience, their habits, behaviors, and tendencies is imperative. When are they most likely to be available? What is their age and capacity to communicate in the medium you are using? Where do they live and when are they available? Some audiences are less responsive during a normal workday and some are more responsive. Some audiences are comfortable online, while others may have more difficulty typing. Moreover, response rates can easily fluctuate with the time of day, day of week, and holidays. All of these fickle factors call for a detailed sample plan and a team whose sole mission it is to know these audiences, work with sample vendors, and ensure everything flows smoothly. In our world this is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

Don’t Get Bullied
We know that the client comes first and that their goals must be met. However, if there are too many objectives, then most likely none are going to be achieved successfully. Regardless of what the client wants to accomplish, you know what your methodology, your people, your design and your respondents can handle. Clients aren’t just paying you for your research tool, they are paying you (hopefully) to consult and advice. So do just that. If questions and objectives are being crammed in from all directions, don’t be afraid to make a recommendation to either cut the length or change the design. We tell many of our clients from the outset that they can either snorkel (cover more range, but stay shallow) or scuba dive (cover less, but go much deeper). If they want the richness that comes from thorough exploration, they need to follow our lead and we as researchers need to stay focused and diligent.

Above All Else, Engage
While we wish that each project revolved around every teen’s favorite game or shopper’s favorite brands, this is not the case. We often are tasked with investigating something not as alluring, like the tweak of a tagline or the clarity of an offer. But, regardless of what the topic is, we have to do our best to engage each respondent. Accomplishing this online can be more challenging, which is why moderators need to be experienced, well-trained, and have a variety of strategies at the ready. At iModerate, we’ve found that there is no substitute for personalizing each conversation and making the respondent feel valued and appreciated. Every respondent isn’t the same and shouldn’t be treated as such. Moderators need to lean on the tenets of psychology, be upfront about expectations, utilize projective techniques when necessary, ground respondents in their experiences, and try to gauge respondents’ personality types to find the best approach. Connecting with respondents online with no strategy and direct questions will get you direct answers, nothing more. However, utilizing moderators who know how to build rapport, engage, and have mastered tactics to do so, will get you relevant insights.



I'm a marketer, but I really want to be a pro athlete or an 80's comedy movie critic. I love my family, food, and most leisure activities. The best advice I ever got was, "be interesting so you don't put people to sleep."

  • Brian

    Love the “don’t get bullied section”! To me, concise objectives also make engaging a respondent easier, rather than bouncing around because you have to hit on multiple topics within a time constraint.