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Getting the Most Out of Online Bulletin Boards

Over the past two years, qualitative research trends have mirrored the world’s shift from in-person activities to virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, online research platforms have had the chance to shine and evolve their offerings. As such,  the public, across all age groups, has grown increasingly comfortable communicating in a virtual environment.

Looking to the future, virtual market research is here to stay due to the conveniences and advantages these methodologies provide. Online Bulletin Boards (OBBs), in particular, have become an increasingly important research tool,  as recent advances in the technology, as well as increased receptivity among clients and participants, have amplified the many unique benefits of this methodology. Specifically, OBBs…

  • Have greater flexibility in length of research engagements (i.e., potential for “quick hit” research over only a few days or extending across weeks or months)
  • Facilitate discussion among participants to stimulate new ideas or get closer to real, day to day experiences of participants
  • Allow for gathering asynchronous feedback from participants at a convenient time and location for them
  • Enable the participation of geographically diverse individuals, particularly beneficial among “hard to recruit” populations (i.e., rare disease patients, those in specialized roles)
  • Facilitate open discussion on sensitive topics due to the privacy offered by answering questions online
  • Offer flexibility in the types of questions asked, including a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods (i.e., projective techniques, respondent-uploaded materials)
  • Support sharing of materials for deeper review by participants, with options to mark up and comment on content

As a result of these benefits, OBBs are often the ideal approach for studies such as:

  • Patient journey: As these studies require building out a “map” of the patient experience, OBBs offer the structure necessary to ensure all pieces of the journey are captured for all participants while still allowing for flexibility to probe and utilize projective techniques.
  • Concept (or other material) testing: OBB platforms provide a variety of useful ways for participants to mark-up provided stimuli (either static or video). Unlike other qualitative methodologies, OBBs allow participants whatever time they need to digest materials and provide rich feedback.
  • Ethnography/longitudinal studies: With the option to design studies lasting weeks or months, there is the unique opportunity to follow cohorts of participants long-term without the high cost and time commitments of traditional ethnography research. The ability for participants to upload videos/images allows for gathering rich ethnographic insights, while still providing flexibility and privacy.

When OBBs are employed, there are some key considerations and tactics to ensure you get the most out of your research.

Instrument Design

Designing an effective discussion guide for an OBB requires a different approach than designing an instrument for other types of research. While in live research the moderator often adjusts question wording or order to ensure the discussion flows naturally, this is not possible in an OBB. Therefore, questions should be written in a way that feels natural and conversational. This helps keep participants engaged, even though the moderator is not there live. In addition, employing a mix of question types and projective techniques helps keep participants on their toes and pushes them to think outside the box.

Setting Participant Expectations

Executing OBB research can have significant variability across studies and vendors, and typically requires several touchpoints over multiple days or weeks. Therefore, setting clear and accurate expectations early on is vital.

Good expectation-setting ensures participants are clear on what is needed to complete the study, ultimately reducing attrition within your OBB. In addition, setting accurate expectations (i.e., not underestimating the amount of time required to answer questions) builds a sense of trust with participants, thus encouraging deeper and more thoughtful responses.

Engagement During the Research

Once participants are in the research, it is the moderator’s job to ensure they remain engaged throughout the study. Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, clear empathy and affirmation from the moderator is critical in OBB research to let participants know there is someone on the other side of the platform who values their time and responses. This show of personality and gratitude continues to build positive relationships with participants.

Furthermore, probing is often necessary to gain further clarity throughout OBBs. With appropriately set expectations related to the necessary commitment of the research and high moderator engagement, participants happily provide additional details asked of them.

When these pieces of an OBB work together seamlessly, participants provide richer responses, leading to more robust insights. If you want to learn more about how KJT approaches Online Bulletin Boards (OBBs), don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!