TAKING IT ONLINE: PART 3
One of the first questions we were asked when COVID-19 shut down local focus group facilities was, “Can we move these sessions to Zoom?”
You can, but there are some inherent challenges to doing so. Zoom is a wonderful video chat platform with many useful and emerging new features, including recording, security tools and calendar notifications. If you’re doing, say, 1-on-1 executive interviews, it can be a great choice. Still, Zoom is not a research platform.
Video chat platforms built for research have additional features like dedicated tech support, “observer rooms” where observers can talk to each other and watch the sessions (without being seen themselves), options like earmarking points in the video to come back to, interactive activities like imagery/concept markup, and backend tools for analysis and video editing. They’re a little more expensive, but they come with a whole set of relevant features that make the operational and analytical aspect of research easier.
Regardless of which platform is right for you, here are a few things to consider when doing video chats:
1 — TIMING
Group chats are again synchronous. Which means they can be tricky to schedule. Leave time for that in recruiting, just as you would with a focus group. And pay attention to disparate time zones! A 7p ET session is probably not going to work for your California participants, and an 8p PT session is going to rule out most people on the East Coast.
2 — DIGITAL READINESS
Do camera tests as part of your recruit. Make sure video AND sound can be recorded, and that participants have the proper technology (hardware and software) in advance of the session. Send detailed instructions ahead of time for any downloading, installing, and testing they’ll need to do. And don’t forget to send the same instructions to your observers!
One of the advantages of video chat groups over live focus groups is that observers can “send a note” to the moderator without disrupting the groups. Likewise, observers can “talk” to each other in a chat room without talking over participant audio. But don’t make observers figure that out in real time – advanced demos can help them learn where to find those features and how to use the system first!
3 — MOBILE READINESS
Expect people to join on mobile devices – especially younger participants. Give them detailed instructions for how to do so, so that they’re not walking around with their phone and going off camera mid-session. That can get a little distracting for everyone!
Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it, no matter the device. Lifting up your laptop to show your golden retriever can add some levity and lend a sense of humanity. A collective group “awwww” can bring immediate cohesion to a session.
4 — GROUP SIZE
Remember to limit the number of people in any one session, so that you can see everyone onscreen and give everyone air time. 8-10 people can work in person, but we find that online, it’s better to have more like 4-6 people in a session.
Just like in a staff meeting online, respondents will stop and hesitate when they accidentally talk over one another, and that means the conversation can be a little slower paced and harder to manage with a bigger group. Smaller groups allow more time per person, fewer incidences of talking on top of each other, and more space for productive interpersonal dynamics.
5 — PROVIDE ACTIVITIES
Although it may be tempting to simply chat with people in a video session, part of the power of online video focus groups is that you can actually integrate digital interactive activities. Most video interview platforms will have something akin to a “white board” where you can upload videos to watch, images to markup, or even a brief survey link.
We particularly love the image markups (useful in ad/concept tests, storyboarding, copy tests, package design, etc.) where participants can markup their feedback all at once, and observers can watch the overlaid feedback mark over the image in real time!
6 — SILENCE, PLEASE
Just as with video chat meetings, background noise can be a nuisance. Dogs bark. Toddlers cry. Lawnmowers run by the window. Make sure you’ve instructed people to sit somewhere quiet — or even consider sending everyone microphone-enabled headphones in advance, and as part of the participation incentive. “Quiet on set!” means that you’ll get to hear what everyone is saying.
7 — PRIVACY
We anticipate that over the next year or two, video will become classified as PII, i.e. personally identifiable information. So, we recommend treating it as such and assuming it will be subject to privacy laws. Use secure video recording and storage systems – and get signed legal disclosures before you start.
Assume you’ll be “video-bombed” by other household members. Make sure that participants understand and signoff that anyone roaming in the background is subject to those disclosures — including and especially their children.
And secure those video links! If you send out an unprotected video chat link that anyone with the link can access, you can probably assume that it’s both hackable and not going to pass a confidentiality litmus test.
“SHOULD WE USE ONLINE VIDEO CHAT?”
WHEN TO USE:
When observers want to see the participants, you have a fairly tech savvy cohort of participants, you have concepts to explore that require a mix of interactive tasks and follow-up discussion, and you’re prepared to follow confidentiality requirements. It’s also useful when you’re worried about variable typing skills.
WHEN NOT TO USE:
When scheduling is difficult, budgets are limited, or you have no way of getting legal disclosures to participants for signature in advance.
NEXT UP — (Read Part 4) OPTIMIZING YOUR DIGITAL DIARIES & MOBILE ETHNOGRAPHIES
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