Online Qualitative Research: What It Is & How to Conduct It

online video call

Spend any amount of time searching online or reading about modern market research, and you are bound to see talk of online qualitative research. But what is it?

Online qualitative research is just that– qualitative research that is conducted remotely or virtually. And, in 2023, it’s arguably the most popular form of qualitative research and will only get bigger.

There may be some hesitation when reshaping your market research for the digital world.

But ultimately, it’s important to realize changing the methodology from in-person to online can provide serious benefits as it pertains to the cost and quality of the data.

Benefits of Online Qualitative Market Research

You may be wondering – why conduct qualitative research remotely rather than in person, if both are viable options for your project.

Other than the simple convenience of online research, going remote has several unique advantages.

Lower market research costs

Perhaps the biggest benefit to conducting online qualitative research is the costs saved when compared to their in-person counterparts. Take for example traditional vs. online focus groups.

With in-person groups, sponsors of the market research are responsible for funding the focus group facility, higher recruitment costs, costs associated with travel, food and beverage for the participants, and more.

Whereas, the major benefit of online focus groups, is that all of these costs are eliminated.


While remote qualitative research does not necessarily solve the issue of participants having busy schedules, it does allow for considerably more flexibility.

Taking some time off for a focus group held via Zoom call is infinitely more accessible for a busy participant than having to carve out the time and resources to travel to a facility and back again.

Additionally, online options open up the doors to new and interesting forms of qualitative research that can accommodate different schedules and needs, as well.

For instance, one flexible option is a remote discussion group or an online bulletin board – which allows an ongoing discussion that can be contributed to whenever is convenient for participants.

However, this is far from the only option available if you want to take a more participant-paced approach to qualitative research. 

online bulletin board example

Access to a much, much wider audience

When recruiting participants for market research, it is no secret that finding a time that works for every person's schedule can be a hassle.

And nothing feels worse than having a perfect participant in mind, but they are unable to attend the focus group or research session for whatever reason – of course, life happens, and it’s no fault of their own.

However, there’s no denying that having a set location participants need to physically travel to leads to many more potential obstacles, and potentially lost opportunities for participants that could have provided phenomenal feedback.

Online qualitative market research methods also can make the process much more accessible for those who may not be able to physically be present in a facility for other reasons, such as their health or disability status, as well. 

Examples of Transitioning to Online Qualitative Research

There are several different methods of conducting remote market research – some nearly identical to in-person methods, and some entirely different, that take advantage of the specific benefits online qualitative research has to offer. 

Types of online qualitative research include:

  • Online and phone in-depth interviews
  • Online focus groups
  • Online bulletin boards
  • Mobile diaries
  • Social media tracking/listening

When changing an in-person qualitative study to a remote methodology, you may want to consider using multiple types of market research 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!

Types of Virtual Market Research

There are incredibly popular and effective ways to conduct qualitative research online. Here a just a few options to consider.

1. Online focus groups

Online focus groups are usually conducted with 5 to 10 participants in real time. Typically, remote focus groups require participants to use a webcam.

The groups are scheduled for a specific time and typically last 60 to 90 minutes.

This is a great online qualitative research method for concept testing, brand/marketing testing, brand equity research, voice of customer research, and new product/service development.

For an in-depth look into this methodology, I recommend reading our Ultimate Guide to Conducting Online Focus Groups.

Or, watch our video Online Focus Groups: 3 Benefits Over In-Person Discussions.

2. 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.

3. Online diaries

Similar to online bulletin boards, online diaries are typically more text-based than other research methods.

Online diaries typically consist of multiple tasks/questions for participants to answer on their own time (typically within a timeframe of a few days to a week, depending on your project needs.)

There are multiple platforms available to set up an online diary, which typically allows multiple types of activities and tasks for participants to complete.

This includes:

  • Open-ended essay responses
  • Video responses
  • Screen sharing

Most importantly– the majority of diary platforms are very straightforward and user-friendly.

This type of online qualitative research methodology is great for brainstorming, concept testing, website usability, and brand/marketing testing.

4. Virtual in-depth interviews

In-depth-interviews, known as IDIs, are an incredibly effective way to get personalized, one-on-one feedback from participants.

They are similar to a focus group but on a much smaller, concentrated scale.

This type of online qualitative research is led by a moderator who will typically follow a market research interview guide with an individual participant.

However, a big benefit to IDIs is that there is some more freedom to diverge from a strict guide and to ask more probing questions to get the most thorough, detailed feedback possible.

remote in-depth interview

5. 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. 

6. Text focus groups

Another great online qualitative research study to consider is text focus groups.

These are a bit different from other types of digital research that may be more reliant on desktop or laptop computers.

For instance, text focus groups take place entirely through text messaging, and are typically more accessible for participants that may not have access to a desktop or laptop computer. 

7. 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 are great for secondary research, informing future research, and adding value to proposals and deliverables.

social media concept

How to Conduct Qualitative Research Online

The process involved in setting up a qualitative research project online is incredibly similar to that of in-person research – if anything, it’s much simpler.

First, it is important to know (or at least have an idea of) the goal of your intended research. With this in mind, you can determine the appropriate online qualitative research method to carry it out.

While the process for conducting market research online can differ based on your choice of methodology, here are the general steps to follow.

  1. Kickoff meeting. Meet with your in-house or outsourced market research team to discuss your goals, objectives, target audience, and next steps.

  2. Design a survey screener. A recruitment screener is a great tool to filter out non-qualified participants from qualified participants. 

  3. Begin recruitment. Send out the survey via an online panel or social media. 

  4. Place follow-up phone calls. A big part of our qualitative recruiting process is re-screening phone calls. During this call, ask more questions to assure the person is qualified for the study. This is also a good opportunity to walk participants through the process of joining the online study.

  5. Send text messages on the day of the study. While this isn't a necessary step, doing so can help improve your show rates.

  6. Conduct the online qualitative research. 

If this seems like a lot to accomplish – do not worry– our team will assist you every step of the way! Drive’s qualitative recruitment team has years of experience reaching participants– both online and offline.

Having a project take place entirely virtually may lead to some feelings of being distant and/or disconnected from participants. But, with our team, that is far from the case.

Participants are always given multiple methods to contact us if they have any questions or concerns at any point during, before, or after the project.

Fostering this rapport and relationship with our participants lends itself to more engaged participants, better feedback, and better insights.

step-bystep recruitment process by drive research


Additionally, our panel of participants spans many different ages, backgrounds, and demographics.

If we are unable to meet your needs using our panel alone, our marketing team are experts in targeting the right audience through social media. 

Recommended Reading: [Ultimate Guide] How to Use Social Media to Find Research Participants

Considerations for 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.


Consider all of the audiences working and participating in the research project.

Collaboration and ease of use are critical 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.  


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.

privacy icons overlay people working on a computer

Participant 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.

However, working with market research companies like Drive Research will help find ways to best adapt your in-person practices online to achieve the same quality feedback.


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 in 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.

For example, our qualitative recruiting company can help find and schedule participants for your online studies. 

💡 Pro Tip

Before fully recruiting a participant, be sure to ask them a few things.

Ask about their comfortability with the technology needed to participate, their ability access to the technology needed to participate, and to check their technology before the research begins.

It is also helpful to provide clear instructions about how to fully participate in online qualitative research.

Recommended Reading: How to Find Participants for Remote Focus Groups

Conduct Online Qualitative Research With Us

At this point in time, virtual qualitative research is just as – if not more, in some cases – effective as any standard, in-person method.

As technology progresses, there is no doubt that online research methods will expand and become even more accessible and in-depth – so what better time to start branching out to virtual methods than now?

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
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Finn Orendorff

Finn’s creativity and curiosity lend themselves to what they call a “research brain”. Their background in creative and academic writing fuels their love for learning and communicating with participants on all kinds of projects.

Learn more about Finn, here.

subscribe to our blog


Market Research Glossary