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Four advantages of online communities in qualitative research

Four advantages of online communities in qualitative research

Online communities have gained a lot of popularity since the pandemic – and even as the world returns to in-person interactions, we continue to recognize the  immense value of this methodology that has been part of our qualitative research toolbox for over a decade.

What are online communities?

Sometimes known as ‘online bulletin boards’, online communities are secure social networking platforms in which participants engage with the moderator and at times other participants, responding to a range of ‘task-types’ – video and photo uploads, card sorts, polls, open-end/blog-style entries, collages, diaries, and more. 

Online communities have many advantages, but here are some of the reasons we at Magid love this methodology:

1. Wide variety of methodologies “in one” 

At Magid, every project is custom-designed based on the unique needs, objectives, and challenges we’re helping our clients solve. Online communities allow for that personalization as they’re perfect for hosting a wide range of studies including: 

  • Short- or long-term asynchronous research communities of all different sizes
  • Regular journaling/diary-based studies, private exercises or public group-based conversations and activities
  • Pre- and/or post-research assignments (e.g., before or after a focus group or interview, or before or after a quant study)
  • Digital ethnographies
  • Co-creations
  • And more! 

2. Compelling outputs

Online communities have an intuitive interface that enables seamless participation, keeping participants engaged and encouraging creative thinking through a mix of questions and activities. 

In addition, its asynchronous participation style gives participants the flexibility to respond when convenient for them, allowing for additional time to think through questions or exercises – which leads to high-quality, thoughtful responses.

Online communities are not only advantageous for the participants but also for the companies doing the research. Clients experience the same intuitive interface using a private, virtual ‘backroom,’ and they have the opportunity to follow individuals over time for any changes in their experience. For example, multiple-day studies can have ‘overnight missions’ in which participants come back the following day to discuss their experiences with a particular product or service. 

3. Depth and breadth of insights

The sheer number of insights we gather over the course of the online communities study is immense, and much greater than a traditional focus group in particular because the platform allows us to hear in-depth from every participant on every topic (rather than just from a handful of focus group participants on every topic). For instance, participants each spend 2-3 hours of time over 3-5 days in an online community; comparatively, we may hear from each participant an average of 15-20 min. over the course of a 90-minute focus group with 6-8 people.  

4. Security and confidentiality

Finally, maintaining the privacy and security of our participants, clients and proprietary stimuli and other materials is of the utmost importance when using online communities. The platforms used at Magid comply with international security and privacy standards (including GDPR), and when combined with other internal procedures (including watermarking and other tools), the result is a highly secure online community experience. 

These and so many other advantages make online communities a critical part of our qualitative research toolbox. Even with the transition back to in-person consumer research, the flexibility and personalization online communities offer make this methodology perfect for a wide range of studies. 

Interested in learning more about online communities? Watch a video featuring Jennie and Jess discussing the topic in-depth.

Curious to learn more about online communities and other qualitative research methodologies Magid utilizes to help clients solve their greatest business challenges? Let’s talk.

Jennie Finerty and Jessica Hall from Magid’s Qualitative Research team contributed to this article.

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