Sometimes clients ask the reasons why participants engage with online qualitative research when there is no face to face moderator. Why would they not just give one word answers? Why would they focus and contribute, rather than just doing the bare minimum?
The obvious answer is money. Participants are usually given their incentive at the end of the research, and often it is based on their level of involvement. This is in contrast to face to face research, in which participants are usually given their incentive by the host before the research takes place. Hence, in face to face research some participants can choose to contribute very little, meaning the moderator has to spend time, effort and skill to try to get them to engage.
The warm up
But there is more to it than money. For example, very often participants will register for online research a few days before it takes place. This involves them coming into contact with the moderator, which gives the moderator the opportunity to create a bond, to explain what the research will involve, and generally to put the participants at ease. By the time the research starts the researcher may have interacted with their participants a number of times, and even have asked a few preliminary warm-up questions.
With online qualitative research it is also very easy to use private questions. In a face to face group everything participants say is in front of several other people. When they are engaging privately online only with the moderator they are less likely to worry about how their answers may sound or make them come across (silly, uncaring, etc..).
And of course, the fact that people are anonymous from each other in online qualitative research helps encourage honesty and openness. Also, people can be at home, or out and about. They are not in a room, with several people they do not know, probably in the evening, at a location they have never been to before, answering questions.
With online qualitative research the participant also knows that the moderator might reply to their answers and probe for more detail or clarification. And the point is that there is often not the strict time limit that applies with a face to face group, in which only one person can be talking at any one time. The online moderator can ask all their participants to answer a question at the same time, even with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.
As ever, this article is not intended to criticise face to face groups. But because f2f is the main incumbent qualitative methodology, and ingrained in research culture, we like to make the case for online.