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Using Google Hangouts for Interviews: A cautionary tale

Recently a client’s budget dictated that we find a non-traditional way of conducting remote interviews. Here are my lists of pros, cons and tips for using Google hangouts compared to the more traditional, hosted, supported research platforms.

Pros, Cons and Tips for conducting research using Google+ Hangouts

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Recently a client’s budget dictated that we find a non-traditional way of conducting remote interviews.  Since the client uses Google hangouts for its own internal meetings and the platform was cost-effective (aka free), we tried it out.  I have been asked many times how this experience – which I have repeated with other clients in similar situations – compares to the more traditional, hosted, supported research platforms.

Here are my lists of pros, cons and tips based on these conversations:

Pros
  • Cost: The most obvious benefit is that the platform is free to anyone with a Google account.
  • Accessibility: Setting up a Google account is easy for participants who don’t already have one.
  • Google allows you to record Hangouts and create a private link to send to your team.
Cons
  • Anonymity: Over the past year, Google has made it much harder to create anonymous account names.  A year ago, I could create an account named Cookware Research or Jean Study.  Today, Google will block your account if it is not named with a recognizable first and last name.
  • Technical Difficulties: I miss having the kind of tech support that traditional online research suppliers offer.  I find myself constantly having to handle tech support and troubleshooting issues with respondents.
  • Lack of Consistency: The Hangout platform, requirements and set-up steps are constantly changing.  Each time I employ this methodology I have to write a new guide for respondents to set up Google+ and join my circles in preparation for the interview.
Tips
  • Conduct a pre-interview tech rehearsal with each respondent to make sure that they can log in using the computer they will use during the interview.  The rehearsal should take place in the location they will be in during the interview.
  • Due to technical issues that may arise for respondents, make the recorded videos available to your clients after the research has taken place.  I have had too many clients try to watch the video feed live and been frustrated by the experience.
  • When creating links to the videos for viewing, stay vigilant about privacy settings to ensure that no one else using You Tube can view the research videos.
  • Ask your recruiters to select participants who have Google+ accounts as their first choice, and those with Google accounts as a second choice.  Only invite those with no Google account as a last resort.
  • Check and double-check your “guide” to joining and connecting on Google+ before sending it to respondents for your next study.  Do not assume the rules have stayed the same as they were when you did your last study!

Since this is a constantly changing platform, I welcome comments/suggestions from other researchers who have used Google Hangouts.

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