Crossing borders? How to set your research subjects at ease

Market Research, Qualitative Research, Technology


With qualitative research projects now matching the scale of quant, technology has become key for crossing borders, and putting the researcher (and the stakeholders) in the room with the participants.

With video and online communities (which are often mobile and at the consumer’s fingertips), it’s easy to share and discuss concepts and ideas remotely. These methods allow you to achieve the same level of understanding as from a face to face group, from anywhere in the world. The tools also offer a clear look into participants’ behavior, emotions, beliefs, preferences, and perceptions. But, technology can’t do all the work.

How can a moderator be sure to get the same connection and generate the same atmosphere in a remote setting as with a face-to-face? The moderator must work alongside the technology to overcome the barriers presented in remote qualitative research, as Ray Fischer from online qual platform Aha! says:

“One of the most important factors for remote or online study success is the human connection between the moderator and the respondent, despite not being “live” face-to-face. This connection can be easily achieved by a brief moderator video introduction that tells the respondent some personal details about the researcher, what the study is about, and what the expectations are for the participant. On the flipside it makes sense to also have the respondent do a little video intro recording from their smartphone or webcam, sharing a little about themselves and perhaps begin to touch on the product category, as well.”
                                                                                                                                           – Ray Fischer at Aha!

The flexibility of remote research allows the moderator to connect with participants from anywhere in the world, at any time, with a much quicker set up compared to a face-to-face. It allows for a larger sample, which can be much more diverse. It’s also often easier. The interview or focus group can take place within the participant’s normal environment, using the software they use on a daily basis (or even while they’re out and about). And of course, remote research is far less time consuming and less costly.

Here are some tips for a successful remote qualitative research project.

  • Check the tech (but mostly the participants). Technology has advanced so much that it can be completely trusted to serve its purpose in a research environment. However, just because the moderator is familiar with the devices used, doesn’t mean the participants will be. Take the time to brief the participants to make sure they are comfortable with the technology so to avoid interference within the research or the results.
  • Never skip the introduction. In this case, the intro is more important than ever. In any case, it’s still one of the most critical moments of a focus group. It’s the opportunity for the moderator to build rapport with the group while also establishing authority. Introductions make a virtual environment more personable, and create comfort within the group. This is most important when the moderator cannot be seen in person.
  • Offer continual guidance. The moderator should guide the participants step by step throughout the entire process. For example, participants should be notified when recording will start, and they should be instructed on equipment used throughout the process (e.g. ‘Please look directly into the camera at all times’). Be very clear and upfront about expectations and the tasks ahead.
  • Create a comfortable environment. One of the best ways to get the participant talking is to ask them questions about themselves. This is even more important in a less personal environment, such as through a camera. Asking about their interests will get them to open up more throughout the remainder of the study. Then, keep them talking by encouraging storytelling techniques throughout the conversation, such as “Tell me about a time when…”.
  • Embrace the silence. Even a short pause might seem long when the participant is remote. Keep in mind that a pause is good, as it allows consumers to think and reflect.

Running a qualitative research project from a remote location has become the norm, but it requires the right preparation to guarantee project success. So, if you’re thinking about running a remote project, make sure to read our white paper on Emerging Methods in Qualitative Research Technology, as well as our Qualitative Research Design paper.