Online Qualitative Research Methods

Dynamics of business today is completely different from what it used to be a decade ago. A major chunk of credit for this change goes to the “World Wide Web”. Be it improved operations, better market penetration or improved customer service, internet has showered its magic dust on almost every aspect of business world. A number of researches have been conducted on the impact of this digital revolution on business world. But then, these researches themselves today use internet as a source of many research tools. Especially in the field of qualitative research where methods such as asking question and discussions (active) or observation (passive) were considered to be traditionally manual, today have many alternative options available online. Online qualitative research tools mainly involve tools like-

  1. Online focus group
  2. Online research forums
  3. Diaries/ blogs
  4. Market research online communities
  5. Netnography

Online focus group

Plenty of sites like and provide online focus group tools. Online focus groups are similar to chat rooms but with separate windows for observers to observe the member discussions. These discussions may be in written form or in audio visual mode. The main advantage of doing it online is that it breaks away the geographical barriers and eases participant involvement on a global scale. Also since participants are not physically present with each other intimacy is less problematic and they come up with discussions more easily. This method may still not be very suitable for very deep discussions but it gives a good lot of cost benefit (savings in travel expenses of participants) with appreciable results in most of the cases.

Online research forums

Online Marketing Research Discussion Forums are virtual research discussions extending to 3 or 4 days.  These are also known as ‘supercharged focus groups’ because of their convenience for respondents, reduced selection bias, and ability to extract a high volume of deep and robust content.  Available 24/7 for respondents to participate, Forum moderator offers tasks, questions, and topics to which respondents can respond freely, without having to fight for ‘air time’ as they would around a focus group table.

Diaries and blogs

In this type of research, participants record information over a given time period, as specified by the researcher. Often, this method is used to ensure that participants undertake (and make a record of) certain tasks before taking part in focus groups. When Diaries are used, the information is not shared with other participants, while when using blogs, the information is shared both with participants and researchers.

Market Research Online communities (MROCs)

MROCs are market research based interactive online proprietary social networks made up of individuals that have a common interest, like a brand or industry, and are brought together for the purpose of gathering and providing qualitative market research insights and information. They help in both quantitative and qualitative researches. Some examples of MROC activities are:

  • Audio and Video Uploads (Ethnographic Information)
  • Community Social Interaction and Think Tank
  • Website, Ads and Image Reviews
  • Polls, Rankings and Online Surveys
  • Research Journals, Forums and Activity Streams


Today most of the teens conduct their social life more on Facebook than on school campus. Be it trying a new shampoo or buying a brand new car, one loves sharing the experience with world. Every little event of people’s life today gets posted, liked, tweeted or instagrammed. Netnography is a technique to study this vast pool of original and ethnic data shared by people. Netnography is basically ‘ethnography’ (study of human races and culture) on ‘net’. Also called social media research or social media listening, in this method researches crawl the web using data mining tools and collect data from various social media portals. Using natural language processing this data is then classified as per topic and tone such as good natural or bad. Researchers then draw actionable insights from this organized data. Netnography is a passive method which involves observation and avoids intrusive questions.

Future of qualitative research looks bright with the use of such online tools and techniques. Consumer today is busy leading a fast paced life. To engage him in a research and gain from their insight it is important that we do it on their terms. Online research techniques are solution to connect with such consumers without disturbing their personal lives and at the same time saving time and cost of researchers as well.

By: Vidushi Pandey _Section A _Group 7 _13FPM009



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