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What Is Online Qualitative Research and How Is It Done?

The focus group has long gone digital — it’s time to catch up on everything that’s changed. Online qualitative research now gives companies a way to scale their research and improve their speed-to-insights like never before. What’s more, an online approach to research can also help to keep research costs low without sacrificing results.

In a recent interview, Discuss co-founder and chief strategy officer Jim Longo dives into greater detail on online qualitative research and how to execute it.

What Is Online Qualitative Research?

Online qualitative research is a method for collecting data online about a person’s thoughts and attitudes toward a product or an area of interest rather than face-to-face or via phone conversations. This includes focus groups, individual depth interviews (IDIs), diaries, blogs, market research online communities (MROCs), ethnography, and other forms of qualitative research conducted online.

A live online research video approach offers some significant advantages in saving time and cost compared to other methods. It also provides greater convenience for participants, researchers, and even observers.

“A major benefit of online research is sourcing participants — it’s so much easier through online sources using an organization’s database or through panels, rather than through traditional means,” Jim says.

How to conduct online qualitative research in 2022

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As with any type of research, successful online qualitative research is best executed with the right tools and tips. Whether you are conducting a focus group, individual depth interviews, or market research using online communities, let these steps guide you before and during your online qualitative quest.

1. Define your research objective

Collecting data without clear objectives is a wasted opportunity. This can easily occur, especially in an online situation where researchers can collect information from several consumers or employees.

What is it that you ultimately want to know, and how do you plan to use that information? It’s a good idea to limit your objectives so that you have enough time to devote to the project and can adequately explore the topic.

2. Define your target group

Knowing your objectives, who will be the best people to tell you what you want to know? This could be current customers, non-users, lapsed customers, or even customers of your competitors.

3. Build your discussion guide accordingly

Your discussion guide leads the research process and should provide a comfortable environment for discussion.

Think of this guide as a funnel that starts with broad category questions and continually narrows the focus to behaviors, attitudes, and specific questions.

Focus groups can stimulate intelligent debate among participants, but if care is not taken, the researcher might not get factual information needed, as discussions might get exciting and distract participants from the core focus. Jim notes that you can overcome this by allowing for some off-book follow-up questions based on participant responses to get a better idea of their thoughts.

4. Create an engaging and interactive session

For a video qualitative study to make up for the lack of in-room feel, it needs to be visually stimulating, striking, and above all, engaging. Jim believes the key to engagement is to have the moderator speak as little as possible:

“A successful qualitative discussion is the one where the moderator can draw out long, articulate answers that they can build on. To do this, the moderator needs to be the one speaking the least.”

Live sessions may be as long as 60 to 90 minutes, so it’s advisable to infuse interactive projective techniques to keep the participants engaged. The Discuss platform provides a number of tools to do this, such as asking participants to circle words that stand out to them or marking where their eye landed on a web page.

5. Differentiate your variations

Live video qualitative research lends itself to agile and iterative research designs. This allows you to tweak messaging or concepts based on audience feedback, then get additional feedback from a new audience.

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6. Have a clear idea about the type of analysis you would like to conduct

There are different ways to analyze the data you collect from your qualitative research. Jim points to Discuss’ keyword search feature and video transcripts that can help you identify specific words or trends.

“For example, if you were conducting research about the color of a package, you can use the platform to find each time a specific color was mentioned and see what participants said about it. Discuss automatically creates transcripts of each session that you can download and code answers into ‘buckets’ to find common, impactful themes.”

7. Determine your interview type

Qualitative research is usually one-on-one or in groups. There are several considerations when choosing the right interview format.

In-depth interviews are best if you want to eliminate groupthink or bias. This is also effective if you think participants might posture their responses in a group. One-on-one interviews are also ideal for topics that are personal in nature.

Groups are best if you want people to play off of each other or brainstorm a topic. You may also want to consider friendship pairs as a way to understand how friends can influence each other as to their buying and usage habits.

Key takeaways 

According to Jim, successful online qualitative research is all about understanding how it’s different from other forms of qualitative research. It requires a different approach to keep participants engaged and analyze their results, both of which are more easily achieved with’s suite of research tools.

Download the Ebook: Best Practices for Moderating Online Focus Groups for more best practices on conducting online qualitative research.

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