In Focus: Online Bulletin Boards
In recent years, advancements in technology have provided market researchers (much like any other industry) with a plethora of new or modified tools that can be utilized to improve the efficiency of information gathering. One such tool that has become available to researchers is the concept of an Online Bulletin Board.
An online bulletin board is an interactive forum whereby participants can share their ideas, opinions and feedback on a variety of topics queried by a trained moderator. Online bulletin boards typically run for a pre-designated time (for example a week) and the participants log in and out of the board based on their convenience. Participants can also be presented with different stimuli through the online bulletin boards, which they are then asked to respond to once they log in. To ensure optimal participation, participants will typically be required by the moderator to log into the platform a few times a day.
Online bulletin boards are the methodology of choice when wanting to monitor the reactions of participants over a period of time; unlike focus groups the online bulletin boards allow participants to interact over a longer period of time as opposed to the 60 to 90 minutes that a focus group typically lasts. This is especially beneficial when it is important for participants to have the time to reflect on the stimuli prior to providing their feedback. The bulletin boards can also be used for scenarios where the moderator wants the participants to provide their answers independent of the answers of others i.e. participants can be asked to respond first and only then see the answers provided by others.
The online nature of the bulletin boards also provides the advantage of allowing people from different geographic locales to participate without incurring costs associated with logistics and travel. Even when located in the same area, hosting a focus group or bulletin board online can provide some cost savings depending on the scope of work.
Despite their advantages, online bulletin boards can also present some challenges and limitations that one must be aware of. Having participants committed to the board over the entire duration is crucial for optimal information gathering. Depending on the target, having incentives linked to successful participation across the entire duration of the board is one way to overcome this obstacle. Generating insights through the interaction of the participants (which represents the crux of focus groups), while achievable is a harder feat for online bulletin boards and depends on the expertise and experience of the moderator. The moderator needs to actively control the bulletin board in a manner that allows for participant interaction. Finally, online bulletin boards cannot be used when non-verbal responses are required i.e. they cannot be used to gauge aspects such as body language and intangible reactions.
Having a good understanding of the key objectives and thus, utilizing online bulletin boards only in appropriate scenarios along with having well-designed boards that are managed by trained and experienced moderators is key to the success of any study relying on an online board methodology.