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Blogging as a qualitative method

James Bance offers a quick ‘how to’ guide to blogging.

“We’re all bloggers now” may not actually be the case, but when using blogging for financial research we’ve found that it can form a very useful addition to the range of qualitative methods that we could and should be considering.

Blogs of one form or another have been used in four of our studies to date, two of our own and two commissioned by clients, teaching us some valuable lessons en route.

We wouldn’t claim to have all the answers, but some things clearly add real insight into consumer behaviour, while others we’ve tried have been conspicuously fruitless, (we tried to get people to blog their motor insurance decision journeys but, as these were often very short and not particularly involving, we gota very poor response, so had to supplement with telephone depths).

Indeed, respondents are more likely to blog if they’re interested in the topic or if the blogging activity resonates with the research enquiry

For example, take our research exploring the extended decision-making process surrounding property and mortgage choice. This employed a phase of respondent-blogging to map their journeys through scoping the mortgage market, considering products and provider offers and into final selection and application.

The process, as part of securing a property, was important to the respondents and extended over time, so it fitted the chronological format of the blog. They had things to tell us as the process was ongoing, and blogging was a convenient way to capture their thoughts.

Equally, we got young professionals to blog their activities when a bank wanted to understand their lifestyle and financial behaviours. This was a gregarious, active and naturally chatty group talking about their favourite subject — themselves. They took great delight in revealing all over a two-week period — with work pressures, socialising and dating featuring prominently.

Our blogs have worked well when we’ve integrated them within a programme of direct contact

Our blogs have been run with traditionally recruited respondents (so representative of the target group) and we’ve asked them to blog for us. These people, since they’re not first and foremost bloggers, need to have the online recording and reporting (for essentially that’s what it is) explained and be encouraged to take part.

On the mortgage decision study we visited all respondents at the outset to understand their situation, build a rapport that would help carry them through the research period, and get them set up on their own blog (which we’d organised in advance).

The mortgage group blogged for us for two months, with variable commitment and depth. Over this time we kept in touch via the blog and email, and then returned to conduct an extended catch-up interview, reviewing everything they’d been through in this phase.

Our young professionals blogged for two weeks, following a tele-depth and explanation, before coming to a group where they knew we’d be reflecting on what they’d told us.

We’re convinced that an appropriate combination of blogging and face-to-face contact is key to success.

A blog that you invest with thought and imagination will encourage your respondents to take it seriously

You’ll have to set the blog up for individual respondents but, if you can make it an interesting, convenient and fun place to be, they are more likely to invest their time and energy in it.

If you want to use blogging in your research, you’ll probably use a commercial blog site like Typepad or blogger. Even here, though, you can inject ideas to help respondents understand what you’re looking for and get them into the habit of reporting.

If each respondent blogs separately, as our mortgage selectors did, you can use the blog to post regular questions, insert weblinks on relevant articles for them to look at and tell you their thoughts on, or post jpegs of adverts to explore communication cues.

If, meanwhile, the blog is to be a shared forum you’ll need to structure the space with relevant categories to post on and you’d be wise to inject some ‘window- dressing’ to provide fun and interest. We’ve used ideas as simple as quizzes and riddles — and yes, they do work.

What is the benefit? Why get people to blog in the first place?

Our experience is that it can take you into parts of their lives, their behaviours, their daily considerations and choices in a highly effective manner.

Using this technique on the mortage selection study we were able to get very close to significant and technical decision-making as it happened. We saw with vivid clarity how this took place in the midst of people’s busy lives on a subject they valued but frequently found baffling and frustrating.

Consequently, we were able to describe a critical path of intention and imagination, knowledge building, criteria identification and validation, and engagement with a provider. It’s unlikely that we could have mapped this as easily and as confidently through any other means at our disposal.

We believe that the ongoing digital revolution provides qualitative researchers with an opportunity to reveal consumer behaviour and marketing insight in ways not previously possible — in terms, say, of accessibility, familiarity and ease.

Get it right and you could increase your access points to life — as lived by consumers — and not necessarily how it’s always reported in a group discussion.

 

James Bance
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007