Digital tools have already become part of the reality of traditional qualitative research – an evolution, an adaptation to current reality: they work as complementary elements to offer new data collection, enrichment and illustration possibilities.
Because of the multi-media character of the online environment, which involves photos, videos, music, links, it is possible to give more life to research stimuli and to respondent-generated content.
This wealth of representations helps towards a better understanding of the object in study, because it allows us to draw a more dynamic, accurate portrait of a given audience profile, behavior, lifestyle, concept, ideology, culture.
The most prominent digital tools in qualitative research are blogs, communities, online forums and apps.
WHEN TO USE THEM?
Forum platforms and online communities ➨ these work better when there is more time to conduct the study: in studies involving online communities, for example, the panel needs to be given enough time, ideally 3 weeks, because they tend to start off slowly, with straight-forward, objective answers and only during the course of time their feedback gets more sophisticated, because at that point there is more interaction among the members and more familiarity with the theme.
Blogs ➨ these are applicable and work well with tighter research schedules – 5 to 7 days. They have the spirit of a diary: they are easy to use and the respondent can customize his or her page – an advantage than tends to increase the level of involvement with the task. And because they have a more personal nature and are associated to longer texts, blogs tend to encourage less interaction among the participants (which is often not a study requirement: only the researcher accesses the posts).
APPs ➨ they carry a strong sense of modernity, they tend to be highly intuitive and exploit a channel that has a huge, virtually inseparable connection with the consumer: many people see their mobiles as an extension of their own body and stay connected 24/7.
The major advantage of APPs is that they allow consumer behavior to be documented exactly when it takes place (and not only by memory) – while shopping at a given point of sales, while using a product or service, while attending an event, etc.
To make APPs truly effective, they need to be in the user’s native language. It might sound obvious, but we had some projects in Brazil in which the APP was in English and the participant was sent a tutorial in Portuguese with instructions on how to use it. Obviously, it was a disaster, and there were many mistakes and misunderstandings in dealing with the tool.
Internet groups ➨ this technique has not been widely used due to setbacks such as: difficulty of retaining respondent interest, given that they are at different locations with all kinds of potential distractions; difficulty in capturing the group’s real mood (there are many transmission delays); limitations in stimuli exhibition; and, certainly, the low quality of internet connection and telephony service in Brazil.
In online groups it is in fact a challenge to establish a productive dynamic and build rapport with the group – the physical distance hinders interaction.
One-on-one interviews on Skype ➨ particularly useful to listen to experts / opinion leaders, who tend to have busy schedules.
One-on-one online interaction has proven efficient, both because it allows better rapport between the interviewer and the respondent and because focus is kept exclusively on the respondent, with no other distractions.