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Online Bulletin Boards: Advantages and Disadvantages

The meteoric rise of technology over the last 20 years has impacted every industry in every country around the globe. In the world of market research, for example, advancements in technology have facilitated massive uploads of data, which, in turn, are being used to better inform all sorts of business decisions. With the variety of digital platforms now available to them, researchers are able to interact with respondents at any time and in any place, allowing them to distribute and collect information almost simultaneously. One qualitative research tool, in particular — the online bulletin board — is especially helpful thanks to its asynchronous platform for engagement that often makes market research cheaper and easier to undertake. Here’s what you need to know about online bulletin boards:

Online bulletin boards are not unlike traditional bulletin boards; their purpose is to display, inform and advertise facts and figures to multiple people at any given time. But instead of being physical objects, online bulletin boards exist virtually, accelerating information sharing among people who will never physically interact. Indeed, The Association for Qualitative Research defines an online bulletin board as “a private online forum that research participants can log into to answer questions and share information, ideas, and opinions.” Along with respondents, a moderator also participates, helping to direct conversation, answer questions and, in general, facilitate relevant data outcomes. The beauty of online bulletin boards, however, is not just their usefulness; it’s their convenience. With perpetual access to online bulletin boards, respondents are able to sign in whenever and wherever they choose. They can read and respond to discussion transcripts from — as well as exchange files with — fellow respondents and/or the moderator, and they can do it over a period of time without having to wait for everyone to assemble together en masse.

Because of their virtual nature, online bulletin boards are a very versatile market research tool and offer many benefits, such as:

Online bulletin boards are convenient, permitting members the opportunity to participate in a study without having to worry about time, work or geographic restrictions. And because respondents can sign in whenever they want, quite often the feedback gathered is more comprehensive, the result of unharried, focused thought rather than forced conversation from people who might otherwise be hard to reach.

Meeting virtually also removes a lot of the overhead costs necessitated by in-person research methodologies, such as any fees associated with a meeting space, as well as travel, food, and lodging expenses for participants. Thus, online bulletin boards are sometimes cheaper to administer than face-to-face interviews and focus group research.

Finally, online bulletin boards offer respondents anonymity, which can be invaluable when companies need to discuss sensitive topics and/or when participants might wish to remain unknown. Oftentimes, respondents share more when they feel safe and free from judgment, common side effects when someone believes he or she is “invisible.”

Of course, no one market research methodology works in every situation. Some disadvantages of online bulletin boards include:

Although technology is everywhere, not everyone has access to it. Using an online bulletin board to conduct market research would necessarily exclude participants without a reliable computer and internet connection.

And anytime a moderator is involved, there is always the risk of bias, with his or her thoughts and opinions unintentionally (or, sadly, sometimes intentionally) swaying the thoughts and opinions of respondents and adversely affecting research results.

Not surprisingly, partnering with a professional market research firm can help companies determine the right time to use online bulletin board market research. To learn more about when and where online bulletin boards might benefit your own research efforts, please contact our team of experienced market researchers.

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