Navigating through the noise: 3 key considerations when conducting qualitative research in an online age

When did you last talk to someone who didn’t own a smartphone? I’m guessing, for most of us, the answer was something along the lines of “I can’t remember” or “Years ago…”

It can often feel from looking around that the modern world is screen-addicted: we have our heads buried in our mobile phones while walking down the street or on the bus or train. It’s second nature to check your phone while waiting to meet someone. Ofcom reported in 2015 that two thirds of the UK now own a smartphone, using it for nearly two hours every day to browse the internet, access social media, bank and shop online, and you can only imagine that this proportion must have increased even further since then.

This is game-changing for us as researchers. Consumers are less willing to sit and do a half hour survey – because they’re on their phone and it’s just not built for it. Similarly, the conventional focus group in a hotel or viewing room is starting to feel just that: old. What if the process of gathering feedback from people can become more ‘authentic’? More embedded in the things that people are doing already, more ‘in the moment’, or more enjoyable and engaging to take part in? It just takes a second to click onto Twitter or Facebook and see that people are generating data at an astonishing rate. So how do we capitalise on this and use it to our (and the research participant’s) advantage?

Harnessing qualitative data

AQR ran some training recently on how to harness qualitative data in an online age: from conducting ‘social listening’, to setting up an online community, to using apps for consumer to complete diaries and send in-the-moment feedback. This is what we took from the session:

  • It’s led by the consumer: Conventional research methods cant necessarily be led by the client’s research objectives: for example, asking consumers whether they like Brand X’s new packaging or what they thought of using Service Y. By ‘listening in’ to what people are organically discussing on social media, you can tune into what customers are really thinking and feeling, what their pain points are and what’s important to them.
  • It’s less ‘onerous’: If you can mirror the technology that the participant is already using, the process of giving feedback won’t feel burdensome. If an online community or an app looks and feels like a platform they are using already, bets are they’ll stay and contribute valuably. Equally, an app designed to trigger a survey in the moment (after leaving a shop or closing a website page) means you’re gathering feedback in a way that is integrated to the actual process or experience you are researching.
  • It allows us to understand the where, when, why, who, what: By using apps, pictures and videos we are getting to know the consumer in their own environment. This enables organisations to gain a better understanding of the habits and routines a customer has established around their interactions with a product or service, who they are speaking to, how they feel when they begin the process and after completing it, and what else they are doing before, during and after.

Of course, while this is all exciting, the data produced can be more unstructured than we are used to. This leaves the researcher with the exciting challenge of learning how best to navigate through the ‘noise’ to continue producing actionable insight.

For more information about how IFF Research can use these new approaches to maximise their value for you, please contact