Posted on April 18, 2013 · Posted in Web Usability

Online bulletin board research: An Analysis

With the ever increasing user bases of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, it’s no wonder that research departments have looked to similar message board formats to conduct qualitative research. Though online message board research has existed for several years, this research method remains uncharted territory for many organizations. Having recently completed numerous online bulletin board projects, I was reminded how effective and well suited this technique can be for certain types of research and that it should be considered as a viable alternative to traditional qualitative methods.

How they work:

For those unfamiliar with online bulletin boards, they work similarly to focus groups, except that respondents can be in different locations. Multiple respondents are gathered in a virtual space on a message board where a moderator leads a discussion about the project topic. Every respondent is given a username and password to the bulletin board site so that they can log in and participate. The boards are open 24/7 so respondents can come and go as they please, answering questions in an asynchronous manner. After the discussion has been completed at the end of the allotted response time period, the researcher can gather and analyze the data.

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Why use bulletin boards:

Perhaps the greatest benefit of conducting online bulletin board research is the format. The boards themselves are completely electronic, which makes this type of research extremely cost effective. Facility expenses, travel expenses, as well as a multitude of other back room expenses are averted entirely. This format also makes it incredibly easy for researchers, clients, and respondents to view and participate in the research. The bulletin boards can be accessed from any location. This allows for clients and researchers to coordinate their efforts over any distance and for respondents to participate at their convenience from the device and location of their choosing. The format also encourages participants to interact with one another by commenting on the responses of others. This helps open up conversations and allows the researcher to probe respondents about their comments and questions to other participants for deeper insights.

More advantages:

  • Bulletin boards allow for a multitude of different types of questions and answers that help provide researchers, and ultimately clients, with great feedback.
  • They can support many participants to accommodate participant pools of any size according to the project.
  • Several different demographics can be surveyed by utilizing separate boards if need be, providing a degree of reach with this research method.
  • Transcription, which has become a necessity in market research, is a much simpler process that leads to an overall faster turnaround with results from the research.
  • Bulletin boards can be archived for later use by the client or the researcher.

The drawbacks of bulletin boards:

Though bulletin board research does a fantastic job of helping researchers obtain quality information for clients, it is not always the best solution for a research project. Certain demographics, such as those without access to computers, will not be able to participate in this type of research. For those who can, technological issues may arise due to the wholly electronic nature of this method. There may be compatibility issues with the software utilized or accessibility issues if participants forget their user ids or passwords. Security issues are always a concern because the software is accessible via the internet. While access to the bulletin boards is password protected, hacking attempts remain a concern.

More disadvantages:

  • Bulletin boards do not show the non verbal communication of participants.
  • The credibility of responses largely hinges on participant engagement and retention, both of which are often out of the researcher’s control.
  • High dropout rates are frequently observed in this method of research. Respondents may lose interest or simply feel that investing their time in actively participating in not worth the effort, especially during a long term bulletin board project.

Summing Up:

While not a panacea for every market research problem, bulletin boards provide an alternative to more commonly used research methods. They offer a high level of flexibility for both researchers and clients in a low cost, familiar package. Though there are drawbacks, namely the lack of non verbal communication and potential technical problems, bulletin boards are a useable, innovative way to conduct qualitative research.

In order to make the effort worthwhile, it is important to work with a research vendor who is not only knowledgeable and experienced with online bulletin boards, but with a researcher who also knows the best practices to make the process effective and efficient for you.  One such best practice includes requesting respondents not only to provide responses but to revisit the boards at a later time to provide responses to the feedback of others.  A skilled moderator in combination with one who knows the technology is key, so make sure that you not only decide on the technology but you work with a solutions provider who can help you gain the insights that you require based on your research needs.

About the Author

Ryan has been with GEM Research Solutions since 2010. He is a graduate from The College of New Jersey will a BA in Business with a focus on market research. Ryan was an intern with GEM Research Solutions and after his graduation, he has steadily progressed in the company. Ryan handles all size projects and all facets of our research projects. His moderating expertise has ranged from the youth market to doing executive interviews for large size businesses.