Bulletin boards are nothing new. I get that. They've been around for almost as long as I've been in this business (ok, maybe not quite that long). Still, I was on the phone with a client yesterday who had never experienced a bulletin board before. It stands to reason that there might be many others out there who either have never tried bulletin boards or who haven't used them recently. However, if you love bulletin boards too and use them often, you can probably skip this post. If you are new or returning to bulletin boards, let me share my great enthusiasm with you. I LOVE BULLETIN BOARDS! There. Are you convinced?
Ok. Let me tell you why I love them, and then you can tell me all of the reasons that I'm right or wrong in the comments section.
First, let me explain exactly what a bulletin board is because, as I said earlier, there are lots of people who don't use them yet. According to my friends at 20|20 (a leading BB platform provider), bulletin boards are asynchronous web-based discussion groups. That's a fancy way of saying that they are a short-term community of specially-recruited participants who interact with a moderator and sometimes each other by posting their thoughts on something that looks like an updated version of an old-school online discussion board. The boards can run anywhere from 5-15 days and have 10-30 participants in them. The moderator of the board uploads a series of questions once every few days, and participants log in to post their responses to the questions, respond to others' posts, etc. The moderator then can probe respondents with follow-ups or additional questions. I've posted a few pictures above for reference.
So, why do I love them? Can you guess just from my description above?
The #1 reason that I am a proponent of bulletin boards is that they foster candid conversations even on topics that can be sensitive to people. For example, CMI (my former employer and current client that I love dearly) does a great deal of work with pharmaceutical companies, and some health-related topics are quite unpleasant (think anything that happens below the belt). Well, the anonymity afforded by bulletin boards provides participants with some level of comfort in discussing very private matters. I've seen some amazingly candid "conversations" occur on topics that would make my mother blush. It's very difficult to get that level of intimate detail either face-to-face or even on the phone. Plus, you have the bonus of being able to ask follow-up questions generated either by the moderator or the "back-room" full of clients (who can silently observe the goings on).
Guides can (and often should) be as imaginative and interesting as possible to keep participants engaged. Want to show some stimuli and have participants mark it up - easy peasy. Want to see what's in participants' refrigerators - no problem. Want to gather some videos of participants trying to put together an IKEA dresser - prepare yourself for some cursing. It's all possible with the online format. And think of how great that makes reports. Not only can you have quotes, but all kinds of interactive media for your internal clients to enjoy, and more importantly, to understand participants' desires, frustrations, needs, etc.
Participants are busy. Some are ridiculously busy (think Mother of 2 trying to run her own company out of her house...hmmm...sounds familiar). Have you ever tried to schedule telephone interviews with physicians or CEOs? Well, it's not fun and the no-show rates can be alarming. Bulletin boards are convenient for everyone because it's an "on-your-own-time" activity. You don't have to lock people into responding between 9am-7pm. They can respond at 1am if they want, and many do. As a moderator, I just ask that you don't expect the same from me. I need my beauty sleep (as my mother would say).
In the context of a qualitative research budget, which is often bloated by facility fees, travel, and all the wine you drink in the back room, bulletin boards can be very cost effective. You eliminate the geographic bias and costs, by moving to an online format, and you have higher participation rates (meaning you are over-recruiting for no shows a little less).
In a nutshell, that's why I love bulletin boards. I'm working on a great project right now with the LGBT community which is exciting, and I'd love to do even more using this methodology. However, it's not right for every research question, there's no doubt about that. Still, I would say it can be perfect when you:
- Have a sensitive subject to discuss
- Are looking to gather multimedia responses
- Want to dive very deeply into a topic
- Want to be flexible and interactive with the guide
- Have respondents are difficult to pin down at specific times
So, if you have a research question that you think might be appropriate, give me a call. There's nothing that I love more than debating methodologies, and I can link you up with some great partners no matter which methodology you choose.