As a moderator at iModerate, I converse with people every day. The medium—our proprietary platform, which works similar to instant messaging. The topics—an endless variety. Every day, I ask people about the products and organizations that play a major role in their lives. No topic is too small or too large. Collecting input from diverse individuals, all around the world, and hearing what they have to say is an exciting proposition. But…conversations don’t necessarily equal insights. As a moderator, it’s absolutely necessary to engage respondents and encourage them to go beyond the surface to share true insights.
Interviewing over text is much different than interviewing face-to-face. You miss out on visual and audial cues; a person’s confused micro-expression after hearing a question, an inattentive yawn, or the excitement in a person’s voice as they talk about something with passion.
There are, however, clear benefits to text-based interviews that can sometimes be overlooked in favor of more conventional qualitative fare. Respondent and moderator alike are in the comfort of their own environments, and the costly need for travel is eliminated. Even more, there’s a tendency for quick rapport-building and deep engagement because of the anonymity of both moderator and respondent. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. But by the end of the conversation, they’ll have shared thoughts about products, ideas about how they see the world, and all other sorts of insights. Below are three ways to engage respondents to make sure this happens consistently.
Exhibit Genuine Curiosity
If a respondent says something that you don’t understand, ask about it. Whether it’s a complex subject that the respondent is explaining or vague word choice that muddles meanings, asking for clarification and really following up conveys to respondents that I truly care about what they have to say, and gives them more of a reason to continue fully explaining their responses and offering more of the why behind what they’re saying.
Show You’re Listening
Listening and understanding a respondent is key to moderating. Showing that sense of listening and understanding is just as important when it comes to engaging online respondents. While this process may be more intuitive in a face-to-face setting, it’s entirely possible to do in a textual setting as well. One of my favorite methods of doing this is re-weaving. Let’s say I just asked a question, and I want more details, or more of the reasoning behind the answer. Tying in phrasings or concepts used by the respondent shows that I’m listening and effectively creates a stronger rapport between moderator and respondent, allowing for deeper insights.
As a moderator, you have to be flexible. You never really know what question you’re going to ask next until you see what a respondent says. You might have one queued up, but if you don’t understand the response or if a person says something that leads to a really interesting, semi-tangential thought (and there’s enough time)—ask about it! If a respondent says something that you feel could lead to a valuable piece of feedback for the client, focus on that path before returning to the discussion guide. Flexibility and a high level of comfort jumping around the discussion guide to cater to individual respondents allows them to talk about their perceptions and behaviors in-depth and uninterrupted, offering deeper and more valuable insights than if I were to simply ask the same questions in the same order for all respondents. Flexibility as a moderator initiates a smooth, flowing conversation that offers respondents the chance to fully express and explain themselves.
In a single day, I might ask people for their reactions to a new ad, talk to them about their perceptions of future technologies, or unearth deep beliefs about how they see the world. No matter the topic—the deepest insights are only found when respondent and moderator are fully engaged.