Should you use a professional moderator for your online research project?

Reasons for Using a Professional Moderator for Your Online Research Project

Using a professionally trained moderator increases your chances of uncovering business-building marketing insights during your research project because the moderator will:

  • Establish actionable objectives
  • Create an effective research design
  • Bring an unbiased perspective
  • Probe and effectively guide the discussion
  • Focus solely on the research
  • Summarize the key insights

Establish actionable objectives

A trained moderator will begin by first understanding the business need or opportunity that has prompted the research.  Next, they will want to know the objectives of the research.  A good moderator may ask, “What does success look like at the end of this project?”  This question at the start of a project will help your team clarify what really needs to be learned.  Establishing clear, actionable objectives will identify the key topics and help to frame the design of the research.

Create an effective research design

Trained moderators often have experience across various product categories and are skilled with using a variety of research methodologies to help their clients understand their customers.  They can propose creative exercises (e.g., project techniques, storytelling), homework assignments (e.g., video recorded shopping trips or tasks) and different approaches (e.g., iMarkit, poll questions) to engage your target audience.  They know the best ways to get the information you need and how to implement them in an online environment.

Bring an unbiased perspective

Project teams bring an unintentional, but inevitable bias as they are close to their projects.  A trained moderator will bring a fresh, unbiased perspective. They can offer an outside perspective in designing the research, evaluating the stimuli and listening to what is being shared by respondents.  This unbiased perspective is invaluable as it helps to ensure your team will get to the real truth you need to guide your business decisions as opposed to a biased interpretation of the truth.

Guide the conversation and probe effectively

A trained moderator knows how to engage respondents and ask questions in ways that will not lead the respondent.  They also know ways of engaging an individual respondent or the entire panel of respondents to get the most robust feedback.

The moderator is also setting aside  8-10 hours / day to follow the board and monitor the conversation to identify opportunities for additional probing of specific respondents or the entire group.

Focus solely on your research

Often companies may delegate the moderation of an online qualitative research project to someone on the project team.  The reality is this individual usually has other job responsibilities as well that can serve as interruptions and distractions to engaging effectively with respondents.

Hiring a moderator for your project adds a person to your team that will be focused solely on the success of your project and getting the insights you need.

Summarize the key insights

A professionally trained moderator will create a summary of the key insights to guide your team forward.  They may spend an additional 20-30 hours going through the data, gathering verbatims, editing video clips and building highlight reels to tell the story of the research findings.

Having started with an understanding of your business need and research objectives, they can report on the key findings from the research that will move your business forward!

Situations for Using an Internal Team Member

There are certain types of research projects where using an internal team member may be appropriate for an online project.

Research is more quantitative in nature

Online bulletin boards and platforms can be used when gathering feedback from large numbers of respondents (50+).  There may be a need to use polling questions for participants to choose from standardized choices.  For these types of research designs, probing is not required and reporting may focus more on numbers instead of thoughts, feelings, beliefs or attitudes.   When gathering this type of data, the benefits of using a professional moderator may not be realized.

Research questions are structured and repetitive

If the research is designed so that questions are straightforward, structured, or repetitive, then using an internal team member to facilitate the board may not compromise your findings. For example, a research team may be presenting several pieces of stimuli and asking the same questions of each piece of stimulus.


One final consideration when trying to decide whether or not to use a professional moderator is cost.   The cost of hiring a trained moderator is often miniscule compared to the financial implications of the business decision the research will ultimately guide.  Hiring a professional moderator is often worthwhile as it gives your business and project team the best opportunity to learn as much as you can from your upcoming research project.