The Art of Building Trust in Digital Research

16 April 2024 by
3 minutes read
The Art of Building Trust in Digital Research. Person on laptop.

A few weeks ago a participant sent me the kindest message – thanking me for some top notch (their words) moderation. I found this strange as it’s literally my job, nevertheless, I thanked them and wished them a merry weekend. Indeed this participant is now my favourite (not that we have faves) – responding with lightning fast precision, and sharing beautifully crafted responses. Evidently by building trust with the participant they’ve flourished from brilliantly thought through research, not to mention a humble moderator.

So how can I pass on this wisdom for everyone to enjoy?

Well the thing is, digital research isn’t the same as sitting in a room with a participant, and asking about their day. You have to really work to build trust from the off. Indeed, once participants trust you, they’re more open and as a result, you can enjoy genuinely insightful responses. Let’s take a look at some ways to encourage these positive connections.

1. Establishing Transparent Communication

As is the case for any relationship, transparency is crucial, and digital research is no different. It’s so important to communicate openly and honestly with participants about the research process, its purpose, and what their involvement will entail. Here’s how to do it:

  • Clearly set out your expectations at the start and never, ever shift the goal posts. Always use language that fits your audience.
  • Pre-empt any concerns proactively by creating an FAQ document or links to relevant pages. Sometimes we find it helps to provide a reference that participants can independently verify, directly with our clients.
  • Share regular updates to show how useful the research is and how its being used – adding a thank you video or quotes for longer tasks will go a long way.

2. Showing up and Building Relationships

As well as being transparent, showing up really builds a rapport (and so works hard at building trust). Regularly communicate with your participants, and never be afraid to show them a bit of humanness to remind them that you’re a real person. These are some things you can do:

  • Personalise communications so participants feel valued. Don’t copy and paste responses, EVER; it’s crucial to only ever show genuine interest in their perspectives and experiences while acknowledging the value of their contributions.
  • Share relevant personal experiences to establish credibility and connection with participants. For example if the study is about pet food, shout about the fact that you have a beautiful Russian Blue cat named Boris (just me?). You’ll build credibility this way.
  • Moderate in a timely manner – don’t make participants come back longer than 48hrs after they responded, otherwise they’ll probably have forgotten what they said and why!

3. Respecting Privacy and Confidentiality

You’ve probably noticed that digital trust is much more of a ‘thing’ recently, for important reason – some people are very worried about the digital nasties out there. Your participants should have no cause for concern about their data though and they should be completely clear and comfortable with how their data is being used. Here are some ways to reassure them:

  • Only use secure digital platforms that adhere to local regulations – if you’re not sure, always check with your provider as they should have this information readily available. Assure participants that their data will be handled with care and in accordance with local guidelines.
  • Allow participants to opt-in/opt-out of certain data collection methods/analysis tools if you’re using various methods. Participants may be more comfortable with some tools than others, so it’s important to allow them flexibility over different permissions where possible.
  • Regularly remind participants of the confidentiality measures in place and reassure them that their responses will remain anonymous and confidential throughout.


These are just a selection of things that help in building trust, but as obvious as it sounds, simply by treating participants with respect and gratitude, they’ll respond positively and helpfully. Or, like my participant continues to do, go out of their way to let you know how much they love the research and how awesome you are – which let’s be honest, makes this planning all worthwhile. ❤️

At Whycatcher we’re digital experts so we’re always happy to advise our clients on getting the best out of their research. To find out more about us, check out our website or get in touch here.

Written by

Maria is our Digital Lead.

She is curiously passionate about human behaviour, tech and data. So Whycatcher is truly home for her.

Maria can solve a rubix cube in 1min 12 seconds and has 63 houseplants (so probably needs to get out more).