Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: Digital and Human — Not Mutually Exclusive
Presenter: Jennifer Cuthill, Clearworks
Summary of Conference Session
Digital ethnography is observational research that's done through self-reported events or responses by people in your study that they then upload to a digital platform. Engaging exercises, experienced recruiters and a platform with features that support the research objectives are needed to successfully conduct digital ethnography.
Key Session Takeaways
Digital ethnography allows us to capture behaviors at times when in-person observation may not be possible (e.g. odd hours into the night, very private spaces such as a bathroom or bedroom, or sensitive topics). Instead of a discussion guide, digital ethnography is driven by a set of exercises with specific objectives in mind.
If you have used online bulletin boards, you will find similarities with this approach. However, there are some differences, mainly about when we give access to the exercises to participants and the absence of activity dependencies.
In digital ethnography, all exercises are made available to participants at once. They are not scheduled on certain days as is standard in online bulletin boards. Participants do the exercises at their own pace. The goal is to capture certain occasions when we don’t know what they are and when they will happen. Exercises are independent activities that don't need to be completed in any particular order.
To be successful in digital ethnography, Cuthill recommends:
- Carefully design exercises that elicit the right insights: Create engaging exercises but limit their number (3 to 5) and the questions associated with them. Too many can overwhelm participants and increase mid-study drop rates.
- Work with recruiters who can support the project to ensure compliance: Recruiters need to go beyond recruiting participants and provide follow-up services to make sure participants complete the assigned exercises and answer the questions.
- Start the analysis and gathering of reporting artifacts when the fieldwork starts: Don't wait until the end to start looking at the data for analysis and reporting. Streamline the process by monitoring results from the beginning and gathering artifacts to support reporting.
- Combine this approach with other qualitative research methods, such as IDIs and focus groups, if the limited number of exercises and questions don't allow you to cover all the research objectives.
- Choose a platform with the right features for your research objectives.
When choosing a platform for digital ethnography we should consider:
- Types of exercises and questions the platform supports (e.g. diary/journal, ad/concept testing, community ideation, surveys/polls, live chats, discussion boards) for the research objectives.
- Types of responses it captures (e.g. text, video, pictures, screen capture).
- Level of support offered.
- User experience/design.
- Devices supported.
- Pricing and what’s included.
Digital ethnography can be a more cost-effective option than in-person observation, assuming you work with experienced recruiters and streamline the reporting process. Cost also depends on the number of participants and the platform used. Incentives are comparable with in-person observation studies. However, you may need to add more to ensure compliance.
This approach can be used to gather insights needed in the exploratory phase that often precedes many of the quantitative research projects we do related to new product development, pricing research, and market segmentation.
A big aha moment was realizing we need to find engaged and experienced recruiters to ensure participant compliance. This can really lighten the burden of the research team and give them time to focus on the observation work.
Digital ethnography is an interesting and viable alternative to in-person observation when the latter is not feasible due to the research topic nature, cost, and timing concerns.
QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Michaela Mora, Relevant Insights, LLC