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⫸STICKY⫷ Researchers please read - A short guide to research with online forums


Director of Research
Mar 12, 2002
Castlemaine, Australia
"A Systematic Guide to Optimizing Survey Research with Online Discussion Boards"

The following is a quote from this letter recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Most of this applies well to Bluelight, although we have our own culture here so this should not be taken as gospel :)

The Touro 12-Step Process
  1. Use an internet search engine (e.g. Google.com) to search for websites that have discussion boards which suit your study’s topic (e.g. “bodybuilding forums,” “weightlifting forums,” “steroid discussion boards”).
  2. When an appropriate website discussion board is found, determine if the discussion board has an adequate number of members/views/activity.
  3. Sign up as a member of that discussion board (create a user name and password).
  4. Look for a discussion section that is most appropriate to introduce the survey (e.g. “Bodybuilders,” “Powerlifting,” “Anabolic Steroid Discussion,” “Female Bodybuilders”).
  5. Create a simple yet accurate title for the thread (e.g. “Exercise Study” or “Steroid Survey”).
  6. Post an introduction thread that explains the research objectives and facilitates feedback/questions from the discussion board users. Include the actual name and credentials of the researcher involved, but avoid using the prefix “Dr.” as this may appear less personable. It should be emphasized: Do not include the research survey link in the first post. Website moderators and members often do not trust a researcher who is a first-time poster and may even perceive that individual as an outsider or an “intruder,” potentially altering the discussion board environment [11]. At best, the thread may be removed—and there is a likely chance that your username and IP address will be permanently banned from the website. It is important to develop a rapport with the website members and administrators before attempting to post the survey link.
  7. Subscribe to the created thread so that instant e-mail notification can be received anytime a website member posts a response. Timely responses (ideally within 12-24 hours) are valuable as this demonstrates to other website members the seriousness and willingness to address their concerns.
  8. Only post the survey link when support of the discussion board members and moderators has been clearly established. This will increase the chances of having a high participation rate and prevent the survey link from being prematurely removed.
  9. Create an active and ongoing discussion. Asking board members questions and soliciting feedback will create enthusiasm about the research topic and survey.
  10. As days and weeks transpire, answering posts from members provides two benefits: a) continuing to increase interest in the survey and b) “bumping” or moving the survey thread back to the top of the discussion board (improving visibility of the thread).
  11. Be courteous. Thank participants when they make a post stating that they have completed the survey (e.g. “Thanks for supporting our survey!”). Website members appreciate the politeness and just as importantly, the “thank you” post will bring the thread back to the top of the discussion board forum (again improving visibility).
  12. Don’t go overboard. If there has been no activity or replies on the thread, wait at least 5-10 days before reposting (more frequent attempts to promote the survey may become an annoyance to discussion board members). Some sites may be fine with “bumping” or promoting survey participation more frequently, so pay attention and acquire a feel for the particular forum group. Try to provide value when reposting to move the thread back to the top (e.g. post progress on survey participation or provide an update on reaching the survey recruitment goal). This is especially useful towards the end of data collection to create a strong, final push.