There has been much excitement about the applications and uses of mobile devices in research studies, not least the ability to capture experiences ‘in the moment’ and the possibilities of targeting invites by specific location and capturing rich, geographic based detail.
As early and enthusiastic adopters of smartphones it makes sense that UK companies are at the forefront of mobile research. As other countries now also look to mobile to achieve the best reach and to allow research in populations where costs might otherwise make it prohibitive, it seems timely to share a few learnings to date to help guide the development and applications.
1. The Majority of Responses are Not Mobile
Now that’s not to say that there shouldn’t be opportunities for your participants to take part from their mobile devices. You might lose 25% of your responses if you don’t have your research optimised for mobile, but even in the UK where we use smartphones the most you will cover most of your population with a good omni-channel strategy.
2. Mobile Responses are Quicker
If you are under some serious time constraints, putting pressure on every stage of your research, then consider a mobile-only option. Unsurprisingly responses from mobile devices come in the quickest, because you are reaching that time-filling, time-killing device in the pocket. So if you want to deliver in days, not weeks this is an excellent option for you.
3. You May Need to Consider SMS
Text messaging survives as the most popular method of mobile communication for a reason. It’s direct, to the point and convenient. Marketers still rely on this method and in research it reaches some participants that other methods simply wouldn’t. For example, when trying to grab 5 minutes of a senior executive’s time other methods may be cumbersome, but mobile research can provide a quick snapshot into their life.
4. It Isn’t Actually Mobile
Most of the time mobile research is completed in the home, and a smartphone isn’t necessary. Participants use lots of devices. The entertainment industry are investing hugely in getting this seamless, multi-screen experience right, and we as researchers need to be able to replicate these experiences to better engage participants.
5. It Isn’t the Same as Social Media
Social networks are still social networks. The purpose of them is to connect people to each other, their interests, and the products & services they love. It creates casual and interesting relationships. Especially interesting are insight projects with a measure of ‘buzz’ around products. Expert research companies Way To Blue, We are Social and Conversition have some great examples of how these studies can be conducted creatively.
But all of these experts will tell you that the active social media population is only part of the story, and research needs to include other methods to deepen understanding. As the majority engage with social media via their mobile devices, it seems logical to use both together as part of a research study.
But recruitment via social media is challenging. Participants can volunteer with a low understanding as they have a casual interest and this can lead to low quality results. When a participant agrees to take part in a research study, they are informed and motivated. When they post a comment on a social network they are in a completely different state of mind. Going mobile is a great way of extending the reach of your research, but going social at the same time could seriously degrade the quality of your research.
6. Mobile Responses Depend Heavily on Online Infrastructure
Whilst we are seeing encouraging investment in 4G networks and Wi-Fi, even areas with super-fast broadband, the best technology and connections are under strain from demand. An insatiable appetite for online connection from consumers, coupled with a proliferation of content production from brands means that mobile research is usually extremely convenient for a participant.
However, they do still encounter barriers and hurdles when it comes to sharing their lives with brands. Data is lost on the move and participants are extremely loathe to repeat an exercise after the first failed attempt.
7. Every Single Click Counts
Downloading software, apps, logging in, hitting save, agreeing to privacy policies, adding three photographs… Any number of actions that may be absolutely necessary for a good piece of research and insight are all opportunities for drop-out, a fun, easy to take part in study can deteriorate rapidly to an annoying inconvenience if too much is demanded of the participant before they can submit their feedback.
So, particularly for a short term study, think carefully about the trade-off between convenient and cumbersome. Does the participant really need to download an app to take part? Do they really need to be presented with one question per screen? What value will you release from passively monitoring their data usage above that that you understand in an online interview?
For more information on mobile research I recommend this excellent review from Tom Wells on the IJMR.