There are many online market research methodologies. This chapter touches on three of the most popular and useful ones: surveys, online focus groups, and social media monitoring.
Which methodology should you choose? That all depends on a variety of factors, from your research question and purpose to your budget and time. Here are some general pointers:
· surveys—Ideal for collecting large amounts of quantitative data (and some qualitative data, too). They are quick and easy to set up and can run automatically.
· online focus groups—Ideal for engaging consumers and collecting qualitative data such as opinions, ideas, and feelings about the brand. They require a larger time investment and a willing group of participants.
· online monitoring—Ideal for collecting qualitative data on brand sentiment, and can also provide some quantitative data around volume of interest in the brand/ These data can be collected passively, and there are several tools for automation.
Surveys are questionnaires that contain a series of questions around a specific topic. Their purpose is to gather large volumes of quantitative data easily, though they can also collect qualitative data.
Conducting surveys online allows for data to be captured immediately, and data analysis can be performed easily and quickly. By using email or the internet for conducting surveys, geographical limitations for collecting data can be overcome cost effectively.
Technology allows you to compile sophisticated and user-friendly surveys. For example, as opposed to indicating impressions on a sliding scale, respondents can indicate emotional response. Or the survey can be tailored depending on previous answers (such as questions being skipped if they are not relevant to the respondent).
You can run ongoing online surveys at minimal cost. Simple polls can be used in forums and on blogs to generate regular feedback. Website satisfaction surveys are also an easy way to determine the effectiveness of a website or marketing campaign.
A growing survey trend is getting instant feedback on questions or ideas from an existing community (such as a trusted group of thought leaders, your brand’s social media fans, or an established research community). Examples include the many Facebook polling apps and real-time mobile survey platforms such as InstantAfrica (www.instantafrica.com).
How you design a survey and its questions will directly impact on your success. A survey can include any number and type of questions, and more complicated questions should appear only once users are comfortable with the survey.
Be careful that you do not introduce bias when creating questions by asking leading questions.
Incorrect: We have recently introduced new features on the website to become a first-class web destination.
What are your thoughts on the new site?
Replace with: What are your thoughts on the changes to the website?
In general, you will also find that you get more accurate answers when phrasing questions in the past tense than in the continuous tense.
Incorrect: How many times a week do you buy take-away food?
Replace with: In the past month, how many times did you buy take-away food?
Questions in the survey should be brief, easy to understand, and easy to answer.
The four types of survey questions are described below.
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Open-ended questions allow respondents to answer in their own words. This usually results in qualitative data.
Example: What features would you like to see on the website for the digital marketing textbook?
These questions give respondents specific responses from which to choose. These are typically multiple-choice questions with either one or multiple possible answers. This results in quantitative data.
· Do you use the digital marketing textbook website?
· What features of the digital marketing textbook website do you use? Tick all that apply.
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These questions ask respondents to rank items in order of preference or relevance. Respondents are given a numeric scale to indicate order. This results in quantitative data.
Example: Rate the features of the digital marketing textbook website, where 1 is the most useful and 4 is the least useful.
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These types of questions can be used to quantify qualitative data. Respondents are asked to rank behavior or attitude.
Example: Rate the features of the digital marketing textbook website according to the following scale: 1 = love it, 2 = like it, 3 = no opinion, 4 = dislike it.
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Online focus groups involve respondents gathering online and reacting to a particular topic. Respondents can be sourced from all over the world and react in real time, arguably being freer with their responses since they can be anonymous in an electronic environment.
Online focus groups are ideal for having frank, detailed conversations with people who have an interest in your brand. This means they result in primary, qualitative data. This information can then be used to create quantitative research questions.
Online focus groups can be conducted by using a range of technologies. The simplest is to use a text-based messaging program or online forum; there are many options available. More sophisticated tools allow for voice or video conferencing, and can make it easier for the researcher to pick up clues from the respondent’s voice and facial expressions. Some tools allow the researcher to share their desktop screen with respondents in order to illustrate a concept or question.
Good options for conducting online focus groups include the following: Google Hangouts, Skype, and GoToMeeting. Usually running for between one and two hours, focus groups are used to get consumer views on the following:
· new products or marketing campaigns
· existing products and campaigns, and how they can be improved
· sentiment around the brand
· views on a brand’s new direction or visual style
· ideas for how the brand could improve its position or branding.
Online focus groups are excellent for collecting a lot of qualitative data quickly. When setting up the group, try to include enough participants to keep the conversation alive, but not too many so that some get drowned out by others—eight to ten is a good range. Also consider that you may run into technical troubles if people are connecting from different locations and internet connections—be prepared to do some basic troubleshooting if this happens.
There are a number of ways you can recruit participants for an online focus group. This could include inviting people from your existing customer database, going through a traditional market research recruiting agent, or putting a call out on your website or social media communities. It is common practice to offer a small incentive to people who participate in a focus group, as it is a fairly time-intensive activity.