The Pros and Cons of Using Zoom for Qualitative Research
The global coronavirus pandemic catapulted Zoom into our collective consciousness overnight. All of a sudden everyone was using the verb ‘to Zoom’, and businesses were finding innovative ways to keep their relationships with clients alive as tumble-weed rolled through our town and city centres.
In early 2020 LDA Research was already testing out Zoom as part of our toolbox for qualitative research. What we couldn’t have anticipated, though, was the ready adoption of the platform by clients and participants once face-to-face meetings became impossible.
Is Zoom ‘the Future’ for Qualitative Research?
We’ve seen a growing appetite for the use of Zoom in medical market research this past year, and there’s no sign of it slowing. Given the enthusiasm of clients for the platform, the LDA Research team decided to carry out an internal survey on our usage of Zoom as a research tool over the past 12 months.
What the responses revealed were the strengths and weaknesses of this online methodology from the perspective of participants, clients and researchers. We have organised these into ‘pros and cons’ to get a snapshot of the impact Zoom is having on our work.
Pros of Working With Zoom
Responses have been collated under 3 headings. In each case we present perspectives from researchers, participants and clients:
1. The Quality of the Research Encounter
- Participants. Being able to see the facilitator makes the experience more ‘real’ than TDIs. Especially important is being able to see their body language; when a facilitator smiles, or nods encouragingly, this helps to relax participants and increase their confidence. Whilst Zoom was preferred to phone interviews, there was no appetite for it replacing face-to-face interviews. Zoom was seen as a ‘stand-in’ for these, rather than an alternative.
- Clients. The immediacy of being able to observe interviews was valued. Clients reported that they were able to ‘get a feel’ of the responses from participants. The cost-effectiveness of the Zoom methodology was appreciated. Many clients saw Zoom as a viable alternative to other methodologies, with the exception of German clients who saw it as ‘the best available in difficult circumstances’ rather than an alternative to in-person encounters.
- Researchers. Working on Zoom allowed for a ‘flow’ of communication that would have been less likely on a phone interview. It’s easier to judge how the session is going, and it’s easier to help participants relax. You’re also able to show them products, rather than having to describe them. An excellent addition to the tool-box, but not a replacement. Some participants don’t like being on camera, for example, and prefer a phone call.
2. The Convenience of Using Zoom
- Participants. It cuts out the travelling time, and you know exactly how much time it will take out of your day. It makes it easier to agree to participate in research interviews.
- Clients. Using Zoom cuts down on the cost of carrying out research. You can drop in to sessions without having to travel to attend. Take-up rates are better.
- Research. It makes it easier to recruit participants globally, not just in the UK. Time is a huge factor, so to be able increase time-efficiency is a huge benefit. Travel is reduced for us too, creating more space for other activities.
3. How Easy is Zoom to Use?
- Participants. Zoom compares favourably with other video-conferencing options. It does rely on you having a good connection though and it’s frustrating if you keep dropping out.
- Clients. Seems to work very well. Even where there are connection problems they tend to get solved quickly, and it doesn’t affect the session adversely.
- Researchers. Really user-friendly; just about everyone feels confident using Zoom which makes our job easier. Where there are glitches due to poor connection, everyone tends to be patient and understanding.
Cons of Working With Zoom
We have collected the ‘cons’ into specific concerns raised by participants and/or researchers.
1. Privacy, Consent and GDPR
Researchers. One of the advantages of Zoom for qualitative researchers is that it’s easy to record sessions. Using the using the ‘Webinar’ function on Zoom makes it possible for foreign language interviews to be conducted using simultaneous translation, which is really useful for us. Microsoft Teams presents a GDPR concern as recordings are stored for 3 months on US servers which are subject to less stringent data privacy regulations than European servers.
2. Technical Difficulties
Participants. There are some concerns about being able to connect and sustain a connection. Some participants were worried that they wouldn’t be able to participate properly because of poor connection. There was also an anxiety about holding up the session if their connection went down.
3. Working With Different Markets
Researchers. The use of Zoom for group meetings with participants and clients in China can be problematic as availability is inconsistent. So we have switched to using InterVu (provided by Focus Vision) which provides great IT support. In order to ensure consistency for all participants, the LDA team books a physical meeting space at a central location. The video-conferencing software is set up, and there is someone on site to facilitate any IT issues that may arise.
Use of Zoom for Qualitative Research Going Forward
There’s no doubt that Zoom is an important addition to the range of online qualitative research methodologies we currently offer to our clients. We don’t, however, see it replacing the face-to-face interview. Obviously it’s unsuitable for product testing, but beyond that, there’s a value to face-to-face encounters that can’t be replaced even by the technical immediacy offered by Zoom.