We were born to connect. Some of us find it easy to walk up to a complete stranger and strike up a conversation, whereas others would avoid it at all cost. However, I’d bet for most of us, once the discussion has started, it’s smooth sailing.
As the qualitative market research industry evolves, we have ample choices for our third-party partners who provide us with recruiting databases, interview facilities, and trending algorithms to understand social influencers and online voices. This is all great; however, as our work gets more streamlined, it’s easy to forget the value of a natural, genuine conversation.
The origins of Facebook started with the desire to decide “who’s hot or not” within college communities, but as we know, now it’s created a massive social platform enabling us to share, connect, and express ourselves. As social platforms grow and expand their offering, new niche platforms pop up. Take Tinder—the true “hot or not” app, swiping left or right to find true love. Okay, maybe not true love, but you get the idea.
What does this have to do with qualitative market research?
Millions of dollars are spent on recruiting through traditional methods, which for many market research studies is a necessary investment. As we get in the trenches with our research projects, we often forget the value of walking out the front door and just saying, “Hi.” Our everyday lives are living and breathing focus groups.
We can integrate social tools into our daily routines and work in powerful, genuine ways.
Take the following platforms:
- Amazon or Goodreads Book Reviews
How many of these have you integrated into your projects? Maybe two or three; why not all? Maybe you use a few of these for your personal life, but there are many ways to use these platforms to recruit highly qualified respondents or integrate your experience into your project methodology. Most of us know these social apps, but using them for research is an entirely different story.
Let’s start with Tinder. Okay, maybe you’re not in the dating game, but you don’t need to be to gain insights Tinder has to offer. I use Tinder when traveling. It’s a fantastic resource to find someone local to the area who wants to hang for the day and show you around. That’s an obvious use case for getting insights about a location you might be studying, but what if you don’t want to actually meet up with someone? After countless mindless swipes in a specific region, you will start to notice a trend. Look at what the bachelors/bachelorettes are posting in their profiles; what pictures they used; what they’re wearing; look at the context of their photo. Taking multiple swipes into consideration, you will likely see trends that give insight into the flavor of that location. In Summit County, Colorado, it’s ski bums, Go Pros, and adventure. Near the Salmon River in Washington, it’s tour guides, kite surfing, and white-water rafting. In my home state of good old New Hampshire, you’ll see a lot of John Deere, flannel, and beards. For $15 a month, you can swipe in any city, not just your present location.
For those a little more daring, Tinder can help you set up a revolving door of intercept interviews. Pay for a coffee or a beer and you’ll likely find people willing to meet you at a local café for a 30-minute chat.
Ever thought about book reviews
not just being about the book? Pick the topic, find the book, and start digging through reviews. Posters will not only comment on their feedback for the book, but they will also give insight about their attitudes or perceptions around the topic itself. This is a fantastic resource for projects with a challenging topic, where social commentary might not be so plentiful or the online communities are tougher to break into. For example, on the topic of retirement investing you will find plenty of Facebook groups with folks discussing their thoughts about the matter; however, the groups are often closed and can be challenging to enter. With book reviews, you will discover similar content that’s publicly posted.
Couchsurfing.org has been around for years with the intent of connecting travelers and hosts for a genuine exchange of culture. Travelers have access to free places to stay and hosts are excited to show them around. With over 15 million users and 400,000 active hosts around the world, there’s a database ripe for interaction.
For some perspective, I traveled the world for a year and a half but only stayed in a hotel for about ten of those nights. I’ve stayed in the shacks of Africa and rooftop flats in Bangkok. I’ve watched Couchsurfing.org evolve over time, and just like any community, it comes with its own unspoken rules. Semantics matter, authenticity matters, and timing matters.
There are a handful of ways to integrate Couchsurfing.org into your project. The obvious one and for those a little more daring, consider staying with a host rather than your go-to hotel. Yes, you’ll miss out on collecting more loyalty points, but you will gain an authentic perspective about your topic. Hosts fill out extensive profiles so you can learn a lot about them before you even request your stay. However, with more travelers compared to hosts, you must be intentional about your request. Hosts want to see that you did your research and truly want to stay with them. Popular hosts will hide “Easter eggs” within their profile, for example something like “mention future friend in your request.” This way, they know you took the time to read their profile in full. If you don’t mention “future friend,” you can forget even being considered.
For those not comfortable with staying in a stranger’s home, there are other tools on the platform. Consider using the discussion boards, where you can post a question to the local community (based on location), seeking advice or requesting a coffee meet-up at a local café. Be authentic with your request; while you don’t need to share the sponsoring company of the research, you might want to at least be clear you are working on a project and are interested in talking to people about (insert topic). Name the place, give the timeframe, and offer a casual incentive (pay for their food or drink). As with Tinder, you could set up a revolving door of intercepts without even leaving the café.
To take it a step further, you could host a meet-up via Couchsurfing.org. You can post the event, description, and call for those who might meet the criteria of the topic—boom, you’ve got a real-life focus group without the one-way mirror.
Uber or Lyft
Today, we all likely use these apps, but have you ever thought to incorporate your mindless transport into elevating your insights on a project? Use Uber Pool—again a revolving door of potential respondents, who in my experience have been more than willing to share their thoughts and feedback on various topics. Don’t forget, the Uber driver is likely from the area and holds an extensive amount of knowledge. Heck, ride around with someone for a few hours and play Cash Cab (like the TV game show)—insights style.
We all know Instagram, but do you use it for more than just posting a selfie or that delicious lunch you ate?
Instagram is a powerful portal to see how “public” potential respondents are. Follow me on this journey—it involves multiple platforms. Let’s say you have a challenging or sensitive topic, for example, pharma or health care. Take a disease such as Crohn’s disease. You need recruits. Start by going to the website for a well-known hospital that treats Crohn’s disease. Navigate to the patient testimonials, which normally include the patient’s name. Take that name and punch it into Instagram to find their account. Check if their account is public and a bonus if they mentioned their condition in their Instagram bio. If they are at least public, it’s safe to assume you won’t offend them by sending a private message. With this example, be upfront and clear about your intentions and gauge their interest in participating. If they are not interested, the work doesn’t end here. They likely have a network of patients similar to themselves, and there’s a good chance they might be part of a closed patient group on Facebook. Here’s an opportunity to gauge their willingness to help you get into that group or post on your behalf (which is the preferred option). Through this method, I’ve gained access to closed groups that I would have otherwise never stood a chance to enter.
We work in one of the coolest industries in the world. We get to travel the world and talk to strangers. Don’t forget to add that personal component to your research. Think about your passions and things you love to do. Qualitative research shouldn’t feel like a “study.” It’s real life. It’s real people. Add your personal flair to your project to elevate your report. For example, I love to snowboard and have access to chairlifts in my backyard that act as the perfect IDI chair. Ditch your friends on your next chairlift ride and start a conversation. For one project, the demographic was millennial men and the land of ski bums was the perfect venue. Keep your camera and audio recorder close and see if your new chairlift friend is willing to shed some insight. They can’t go anywhere, they are not preoccupied, and it makes the time go by faster. The visuals are a bonus in your report.
Get outside and do what you love. The examples and ideas are endless, and it only takes a little courage and social fuel to just get out and say “Hi.” While I thrive on the street intercept, these social tools can help facilitate a soft intro for traditional qualitative research. I encourage you to think about what you do every day and find the overlaps with our research. The world wants to talk. You just need to initiate.