Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Establish Rapport Before Respondents Walk Through the Door: Using Online Qualitative to Deepen Your Offline Respondent Connections

Recently, we’ve read and written quite a bit on the subject of qualitative research methods’ viability as a substitute for traditional offline methods; however we, as researchers, shouldn’t always think about these methods in an either-or sense. When used in tandem, online qualitative methods can lend additional insights and deeper rapport to your traditional qualitative studies.

In more and more of the offline qualitative studies that we at Accelerant Research conduct for client organizations, we find ourselves creating online homework assignments for participants to complete in advance of their scheduled in-person focus groups or follow-up online exercises to be conducted after the in-person groups wrap up. Assigning these homework tasks requires very little additional time for recruiters and comes at minimal additional cost.

The following are just some of the many potential benefits of conducting online discussions in advance of your traditional qualitative research study:

Building rapport with your respondents. As all qualitative research consultants know, establishing trust and getting your participants to open up is an art. Giving your participants the opportunity to virtually get to know their moderator (as well as other participants) prior to meeting them – and to do so in the comfort of their own homes/offices – helps to increase their comfort level greatly. That’s not to say that you won’t still have to perform your moderator magic to get your participants engaged when the groups begin, but it certainly helps you take preemptive steps toward that end. We often find it helpful to kick off the online sessions with a brief video that introduces the moderator and lays down some initial ground rules for the study.

Getting participants thinking about the subject matter. Giving your respondents time, during the days leading up to your offline qualitative sessions, to talk about and reflect on their experiences with whatever subject matter you are studying helps you drive them that much closer to the “sweet spot” frame of mind that will yield the deepest insights for moderator and end-user clients.

Documenting behaviors or product usage. Asking participants to keep a journal or log of relevant behaviors (e.g., nutrition diaries, travel journals, product usage logs, countless other examples) leading up to their scheduled in-person sessions can be incredibly informative sources of insights. Instructing participants to use an online qualitative platform for organizing these records can save hours of time a moderator or research assistant might otherwise spend compiling this information from participants’ disparate note-taking sources.

Simpler execution of projective exercises. Projective techniques are fantastic ways to get at some of the underlying emotional connections participants have with the subject you’re studying. However, in some cases, pulling these exercises off logistically in an in-person setting can be quite an “arts & crafts” time suck. Giving your participants collage-building, storytelling, or perception mapping exercises before or as a follow-up to your group discussions can be incredibly insightful, and doing so online is much more efficient (from both an execution and analysis standpoint).

Early predictions on who to “pay and send.” No matter how strong the recruiter was or how well-crafted the screener, we’ve all had situations where more respondents than needed show up for groups and we end up wishing we had a do-over on who we decided to keep versus excuse. Using online homework assignments, you can get to know which of your participants are the best communicators. Plus, having an idea of which of your participants would be the appropriate candidate(s) for dismissal can help to save you from having to spend the first several minutes of a focus group in the back room flipping frantically through your respondent grids and re-screeners to decide who stays and who goes.

Trimming time from an already crowded discussion guide. Research clients are under an ever-increasing amount of pressure to squeeze as many insights as possible out of a given research project. The above methods are just a few that can help to trim precious minutes off the length of your in-person qualitative sessions, opening up opportunities to explore your subject matter at a deeper level or even to start tackling more of the “time permitting” sections of your discussion guides.

For more information about Accelerant's online qualitative and white glove recruiting services, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 704.206.8500.