How to Conduct Online Qualitative Research | Changing From In-Person to Remote Methodologies

Recently, I attended a webinar titled, “Migrating Qualitative Projects Online”. The presenters shed light on how COVID-19 is impacting the market research industry. 

The conversation got me thinking about how in-person qualitative research isn't going away forever, but when a global pandemic like COVID-19 happens it makes sense to conduct qualitative research online. 

There may be some hesitation when changing a research project from in-person to an online approach. Ultimately, it’s important to realize changing the methodology from in-person to online can be made at any point during the research process.

conducting online qualitative research

Looking to transition your in-person market research study to a remote methodology? You've got options! Check out these online approaches to traditional qualitative research. 

Examples of Transitioning from In-person Research to an Online Approach

Online qualitative research methods include online group chats, online and phone in-depth interviews, online focus groups, online bulletin boards, mobile diaries, and social media tracking/listening. 

When changing an in-person qualitative study to a remote methodology, you may want to consider using multiple of these methods to reach the objectives of a traditional person-to-person approach.

Here are a few examples: 

In-person Qualitative Research Online Qualitative Research
In-person interviews Web interviews, phone interviews, mobile diaries 
In-person ethnography Online bulletin boards, mobile diaries, mobile ethnography, social media tracking/listening 
Traditional focus groups Online group chats, online focus groups, online bulletin boards


Let’s dig into each of these online qualitative research methods!

What are Online Group Chats?

Online group chats are conducted in real-time with several participants. A moderator asks questions, and participants respond to each question while engaging with other group members. The chat is scheduled for a specific time and typically lasts 30 to 60 minutes.

Think of it as a typical group chat, but there is one person actively steering the conversation.

The number of participants in an online group chat for market research can range from 5 to 15 people. This type of remote market research methodology is great for brainstorming, concept testing, website usability, and brand/marketing testing.

What are Online and Phone In-depth Interviews?

Remote in-depth interviews are conducted one-on-one and in real-time. These may be conducted over the phone or online with a webcam.

Interviews are scheduled for a specific time and typically last 30 to 60 minutes. Online or phone interviews are great for voice of customer (VoC)research, website usability testing, and new product/service development. 

Learn more about the process of recruiting and executing web interviews, here.

What are Online Focus Groups?

Online focus groups are usually conducted with 5 to 10 participants in real-time. Typically, online focus groups require participants to use a webcam. The groups are scheduled for a specific time and typically last 60 to 90 minutes.

Online focus groups are great for concept testing, brand/marketing testing, brand equity research, voice of customer research, and new product/service development.

Get caught up to speed on the benefits of online focus groups!

What are Online Bulletin Boards?

Online bulletin boards in market research are somewhat similar to chat groups but are not conducted in real-time with multiple participants.

A moderator poses questions to a group of participants who respond to each question over the course of a few days or weeks.

The number of participants can vary. Online bulletin boards are great for concept testing, brand/marketing testing, brand equity research, voice of customer research, and new product/service development.

What are Mobile Diaries?

Mobile diaries in market research are similar to online bulletin boards, but the conversation is one-on-one with the moderator and participant.

The time for each interview can vary and in total, the research may last a few days or weeks. This type of research is great for tracking habits/usage, voice of customer research, and new product/service development. 

What is Social Media Tracking and Listening?

Social media tracking and listening in market research can be powerful. Researchers are able to gather attitudes, beliefs, values, and habits from specific audiences. Social media tracking and listening is great for secondary research, informing future research, and adding value to proposals and deliverables.

What to Consider When Conducting Online Qualitative Research

Before conducting qualitative research online, ask yourself...

  • How does this impact researchers and participants?
  • Are there concerns with privacy or security?
  • How will this change respondent engagement? 
  • What tools and technology will I need?
  • How can I find the right participants? 

Here are a few notes about each of these considerations:

Stakeholders: Consider all of the audiences working and participating in the research project. Collaboration and ease of use are key to a successful online qualitative research project. Make sure everyone involved in the project has the tools and instructions needed to fully participate. This will help make sure no unexpected challenges arise on the day of the research.  

Privacy/security: Navigating privacy concerns in any type of market research is crucial. Think about how to keep data and personal information secure. This may include assessing what data is being stored, how data is being stored, what data is being shared, and how data is being shared. Depending on compliance needs, there may be rigid policies to follow.

Respondent engagement: Obviously, engagement for in-person research will be different than online research. But, this does not necessarily mean one is better than the other. Researchers and moderators will need to find ways to best adapt their in-person practices online to achieve the same quality feedback.

Tools: You likely have all of the tools you need to conduct qualitative research online (i.e., Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Facebook Groups,, Zoom, Skype, etc.). Before deciding on which tool to use for online qualitative research think about:

  • The cost associated with using it
  • Skill-level needed for the research team to use the tool
  • How effective the tool is with engaging participants
  • How easy the tool is for participants to use
  • How the data can be collected/reported on using the tool

Finding participants: Similar to in-person research, participants can be found through a variety of methods like social media, customer lists, panels, and recruiting partners. Our market research firm can assist with the recruitment of participants if needed.

Pro Tip! Before fully recruiting a participant, ask about their comfortability with the technology needed to participate, ask about their ability access to the technology needed to participate, include clear instructions about how to fully participate, and ask them to check their technology before the research begins.

Learn how to recruit participants for remote market research.

Contact Drive Research

Drive Research is a national market research company located in Upstate NY. Our team has the knowledge and tools to seamlessly change an in-person research approach to an online methodology.   

Interested in learning more about our market research services? Reach out through any of the four ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
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  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

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