Since qualitative research came online in the late 1990s, focus groups, the dominant framework for offline qualitative research, has also been the dominant framework for online qualitative research. As the dominant framework, the idea of the focus group has driven the development of online qualitative solutions - bulletin board groups and chat based groups (sometimes called online focus groups). To me, in this age of blogs, broadband and ubiquitous digital images, this adherence to focus group as a framework - while not an inherenly bad thing - has actually started to limit the potential power of online qualitative research. In general, online qualitative research is under-utilizing the available technology.
As I had mentioned in my previous post, the ability to capture the actual day to day experiences of customers so that anybody within an organization can observe is a new approach to online qualiative. We have termed this framework Immersive Research.
Immersive research draws on a number of methodologies - ethnography, longitudinal studies, in-depth interviews and diary studies - and blends them in an online environment. Here are the salient characteristics of immersive research:
1. Primary Interaction is Individual
For immersive research, the primary interaction is on an individual basis. For the most part, participants convey their experiences privately, but there may be group interactions that support the indiviual interactions.
2. Sustained Interactions
The interactions are sustained over a course of days, weeks or even months. Spending time with participants over time is an important part of capturing the natural rhythm of participant experiences.
3. Rich Media Used by Participants
Perhaps the most powerful part of the immersive research experience is literally seeing through the eyes of participants. The use of digital images, video or sounds by participants to convey their experiences creates the “immersive” feeling.
4. Captures Behavioral and Emotional Moments AS THEY HAPPEN
Like other forms of qualitative research, immersive research seeks captures the both the behavioral and emotional aspects of a particular topic. The big difference is that Immersive Research seeks to capture those moments as they happen, whether it’s over the course of days, weeks or even months.
This sort of goes without saying, but the fact that this research occurs online facilitates anyone person within an organization to observe the experiences above - from product and marketing managers to CEOs. The online format makes this possible.
I believe that the use of Immersive Research will grow in the coming years, as researchers increasingly see the possibilities of this powerful new framework.