I'm currently moderating an extended online B2B project involving business execs in a discussion forum. It's somewhere between a bulletin board project and a community, because the same people have been involved for several weeks.
It's demanding for me, but hey, I designed it, so I only have myself to blame.
But extended online qualitative is really challenging for the clients, who have many demands on their time in a typical workday. When the data really starts to build, after a few days in a project, keeping up can be overwhelming.
It's all well and good for me to have insights and distill them into nuggets of wisdom. But they're as good as useless if the client doesn't learn anything. And the best place to start the learning is in the backroom, just as it is with F2F research.
Here's what I've learned that seems to help people engage:
Tips to help the team stay engaged, and help your moderator manage.
 Log in early and often
The first day, it often feels like nothing is happening. Team members who logged on expecting activity can get discouraged, and when they look at the transcript later, it can feel a bit depersonalized, and a lot overwhelming.
If you log in frequently, you will see the same ebb and flow the moderator sees. Some topics attract immediate interest, others are slower to build. It’s easier to see where participants are spring-boarding off others’ ideas. Even though the transcript is time-stamped, seeing the evolution is a richer experience.
 Schedule team meetings to review insights
One team scheduled daily debriefs in a conference room where they projected the discussion and talked, just like they would in a backroom setting. Snacks included.
 Divide up the work of observing
Assign individual team members to cover off one or two segments in a multi-group discussion forum, then report back to the team on their segment. Another approach is to divide up by days (or weeks, for longer projects).
One project team held a group meeting where they projected the evolving discussion and reviewed interesting things together, just as they would in F2F research in the backroom. What a great idea!
 Add comments
Observers can usually add comments to the transcript that are invisible to participants. This is a great way to capture a budding idea, and can help the moderator see possibilities for probes.
 Ask for follow-up probes right away
The faster we can ask a follow-up question, the better. Going back more than one day in a discussion tends to sap the group’s energy, and often does not work anyway. Have a plan in place for how you will direct these to the moderator, to prevent frustration on both sides.
As a moderator, I may make the decision to bring something back in later to the discussion -- even days later. Or I may know that the topic already came up earlier. So if the moderator doesn't respond to your request, try not to get frustrated -- they are likely not ignoring you, just trying to manage the flow in the best possible way.
Portions of this article were previously published on the NewQual Blog as Bulletin Boards from the Backroom: 5 Tips for Observing a Conversation in Slow Motion.
If you haven't seen the NewQual blog or directory, you should check out this new resource: NewQualitative The directory (finally!) brings together all the providers of online research platforms, and it's a good place to discover other resources and content.