10 key steps for your first online research group or community

If you have never run an online research group or community before it is easy to waste lots of time and money when starting out, and to make decisions or judgements which you later regret. So here we have put together a quick checklist to help.

1. Don’t try to find the perfect software

Until you have run a few online projects you cannot possibly know which software will best suit your needs in the long run. Conversely, once you have a little experience you’ll be able to assess the features and costs of different software tools much more effectively, and you might even end up using more than one software tool. So begin by finding a tool (by Googling) that seems to broadly meet your needs

2. Don’t sign up to any software licenses

Why not? Because its a risk you do not need to take. You should not need to agree to a license or any form of longer run commitment, because there is enough choice of software that can be used on a pay as you go basis.

3. Don’t be seduced by shiny features

Some software includes “advanced” features, which seem alluring at first glance, almost as though they will impress clients and make your research more sophisticated. They won’t. It is very difficult, with no experience, to tell the difference between a useful advanced feature and a gimmick. Apart from anything else, they can be difficult to use for participants, thereby potentially having a negative (rather than positive) impact on the quality of your research, and they will also cost you lots of money.

4. Use your existing recruiters

Whilst you can recruit online, and there are many reasons to consider doing so, it is usually best to begin by recruiting traditionally, in the same way as for face to face groups. This is because it is one less new thing to think about. If you don’t know any recruiters then you can find them on the AQR or ICG websites, or we can help

5. Begin with a small sample

When you are trying out online qualitative there is no need to run large groups. You can begin with just a handful of people, in order to get the feel of it. This will save you lots of time and money.

6. Be careful about interpreting the results using friends or colleagues

It can be useful to begin by recruiting friends or colleagues as participants. This is generally a good idea, but the only thing to be careful about here is making any judgements about the effectiveness of online qualitative research resulting from it. People you know are less likely than paid participants to login when you ask them to, or to fully engage in the research. So using friends or colleagues is only useful in order to get used to the software you are trying and the overall processes involved.

7. Do a bulletin board group rather than a live group

Online groups can be run on a live or synchronous basis or an asynchronous basis, over a few days or longer. Asynchronous groups are much easier to moderate, and so are generally the best place to start. We would recommend beginning with a bulletin board group over 2-4 days. There is no need to begin with a full blown community, even if communities are your main area of interest.

8. Monitor carefully how much time you are spending

One of the most important aspects of starting out in online qualitative research is to understand how much time will be involved in preparation, set up, moderation and analysis. So we suggest you monitor this carefully.

9. Be prepared to actively moderate

Just as with face to face groups, the better the moderator the better will be the research. With online qualitative research it is important to make sure participants know that someone is there, listening to them, and interacting with them. If you post alot of questions and then leave participants to it the chances are that your research results will be disappointing.

10. Don’t give your participants any nasty surprises

When participants take part in face to face research it is difficult for them to get up and leave mid-way. But with online research there is not the same barrier to them leaving mid-discussion. So it is really important that the research is as described during the recruitment process. If you have said it will take 30 minutes, for example, it is best not to over-run.

For more help and advice about getting started why not talk to the team at MrQual.

Good luck.