DIY online qualitative research with a Facebook panel

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a company that was using a combination of Facebook to host a research panel (of wine drinkers) and SurveyMonkey to run both survey research and, interestingly (to me at least) qualitative research. It made me think about the benefits that companies such as this would get from using a specialist qualitative research tool, rather than SurveyMonkey, to run their online qualitative research, and I wrote about this in my previous blog article.

But the other thought I had about the online qualitative research run by this company was to question why they do not use the services of a market research professional. As far as I know they do not have in-house research training or expertise, but they were used to running online surveys and so perhaps have a sense that running an online qualitative project is not so different.

Perhaps they are right? In both quantitative and (some) qualitative research there is the process of deciding on the sample size, qualifying requirements and segments, and then designing the discussion guide or questionnaire. Then you ask your sample the questions you have designed, and, in the case of qualitative, you may well interact with participants, or encourage participants to interact with each other, in order to generate a deep level of insight. At the end you look at your results and decide what they mean.

Of course, this is a simplification, but to me it does show that the process of quant and qual can be similar, and maybe that is how this company sees it. Perhaps they feel they can decide on the sample details on their own, and know both how and where to recruit, and they can design their questions, then ask them, probe for more detail where they see fit, and finally interpret the results.

So, what can the specialist market researcher contribute? Well, potentially a great deal, at every stage of the research process, from designing the discussion guide and moderating, through to the interpretation and presentation of the results. But whereas a clientside company might automatically commission a market research agency to run a project involving face to face groups, partly because of the skills needed for moderation and partly because of all the administrative work involved, when it comes to online qualitative research the situation is not so clear-cut.

In the age of online qualitative research clients need not commission projects in full, but rather they may decide they can manage projects themselves and can pick and choose those areas where they see a benefit from bringing in specialist expertise. This could just be on discussion guide design, moderation or analysis, for example.

So this would suggest that one challenge for the agency-side qualitative researcher, in an age where qualitative research software is becoming more widely available, is to offer an increasingly flexible and advisory-based service, not least because once they begin working with clients their range of skills, and the value they add, can become apparent.