When dealing with digital research methods, no matter how efficient and innovative the methods are, the same discussion always comes up: digital methods are colder, and because they do not allow for direct human contact, they hinder the full understanding of consumers.
It is undeniable that, under many aspects, nothing replaces the on-on-one contact between researcher and participants. However, it is possible to minimise these difficulties inherent to digital methodologies, thus increasing the researcher’s capacity for understanding.
Methodologies can be used to humanise digital research.
THE INTERNET IS ALREADY HUMAN
On the Internet, everyone is human. Everyone shows emotions and feelings. Everyone is open to the world, however dangerous and embarrassing this might be. Everyone speaks their mind, with opinions, comments, and contributions. Everyone has their misses and their hits.
The social networks are the space where people display their personal information, tastes, thoughts, photos and videos. This is where the more human side of the web can be found.
But if the internet and the social networks are human and authentic, then why should internet-based research be any different? What can we learn from the relationship dynamics that take place in social networks in order to make online research more human?
People are human, on the internet and in social networks, because they simply feel comfortable within the environment; they feel surrounded by people they know well.
It is much easier to be human in Facebook comments and posts when people know who will be reading and commenting these updates, as well as their personality and ideas.
In order to make the digital research more human and therefore increase its quality, it is necessary to create a research environment that is closer to the environment of social networks. The establishment of communities with the participants is the first step to creating a more research-friendly environment.
This involves offering a space where people can get to know each other better in such a way that allows them to get comfortable and start contributing to the research work in a more natural, sincere and proactive manner.
Once this environment is established, any online methodology applied (surveys, group chats, video interviews, etc.) will generate higher quality output, because participants will be more connected with the project and thus more comfortable to contribute.
That’s why I believe every qualitative online research project should start with an online community. It’s better for respondents and for the researchers.