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Field Reports

Barriers, Bravery and Bullying

How the Ad Council captured moments of teen candor with dscout.

Words by Kari Dean McCarthy

If a teen sneezes in the middle of a selfie, and no researcher is around to hear it, will she re-record the moment?

We all know the mere presence of an “other” will influence respondent behavior. Sometimes researchers just get in the way, especially when topics lean toward awkward or personal.

Like when your respondents are teenagers (awkward!) and they’re discussing experiences of bullying (personal).

This fall the Ad Council, a national public interest nonprofit, chose the dscout app as a way of ejecting the “other” and garnering unvarnished feedback from teens for its research on bullying.

The nonprofit’s goal was a concept-meets-world test of its newest initiative: a digital emoji keyboard to help teens peacefully confront cyberbullies — to remove their barriers to bravery, so to speak.

The marriage of the emoji keyboard and the video diary methodology is what initially attracted Ad Council research director Danielle Bartolo to dscout:

“It really was the perfect fit because teens were testing a mobile app. The methodology of kids using their phones was so organic to what we were trying to get learning on.”

Previous research via friendship pairs and online discussion boards helped develop the keyboard concept. Next the Ad Council needed to understand the critical emotional moments — personal, unanticipated, circumstantial — in which bullying happens.

There aren’t many efficient ways to capture that kind of in-the-moment mobile feedback without planting an invisible researcher on your shoulder. Bartolo explained:

“What was so unique about the dscout process is that it got the researcher out of the room and got the kids talking the way they would explain it to their friends. And having them be the ones creating the videos we were watching, it’s more authentic.”

Keepin’ it real

Self-recording has empowered many respondents to communicate without reserve — and perhaps, to explosively sneeze during a thoughtful 30-second video, then keep right on talking. And then there was the kid who kept on recording his thoughts despite the bug that kept landing on his face. #nofilter

That staying-in-the-moment authenticity is what impressed Bartolo as she monitored incoming video entries from their first dscout project:

“That totally speaks to that organic quality of kids interacting in a way that is not ‘put on’ like that in a research facility. It was a great benefit to the campaign to see the keyboard play out in real time through the lens of our audience.

The smartphone as a remote tool may still be “other” in a research sense, but it’s maturing into more of a familiar companion than an interloper.

In fact, using digital diaries as a methodology might be the upside to an otherwise questionable tendency of the social media generation: totally unfiltered digital self-expression. The same spurious sense of anonymity that motivates Millennials (among others) to openly share their uncensored thoughts is helping researchers better understand their problems — like bullying.

As the responses began to roll in, we saw the benefits to capturing unfiltered moments. The teens were being real, not just saying what they thought they should say to an adult or in front of their peers. They are just talking to their phone. Not knowing who is on the other side really helped them to be who they are.

dscout designed the study and recruited a well-rounded, reliable sample of young teens — a notoriously elusive, flaky and high-maintenance research group — in about two weeks. Our objective was to capture moments from the real-world journey of a future user: learn about the product, try it, use it a while, and decide if it has a place in their lives.

The results were vital to shaping the Ad Council’s campaign and confirming its tool — to be distributed by Google and Apple — was more delight than disappointment. Bartolo’s post-project evaluation was positive:

“The quantitative reporting and the fantastic videos on the qualitative side — it gave us such specific and emotional material that quickly explained the situation and explained the research.”

Paying it forward

Respondent videos and screenshots depicted the severity and frequency of real bullying episodes that would shock anyone not immersed in a teen’s world.

The Ad Council wasn’t shocked. It’s why they built the tool. But what they gained anew was an insider’s view of the frustration teens feel when playing the role of helpless bystander. Respondents wished for an easier way to step in and support people who are getting bullied and expressed excitement that the Ad Council’s emoji keyboard empowered them to do that.

“Kids know bullying is wrong and making people feel badly about themselves makes them angry, sad and scared. Giving them the power to stand up against it was really well-received.”

Danielle Bartolo
Research Director, the Ad Council

Through videos capturing their uniquely teen faces and voices, dscout respondents offered researchers an intimate look at why and when they were choosing to be more than bystanders.

Their perspective gave the sense of being altruistic. And, that no one is excluded from being bullied: not the popular kids, not the smart kids, not the strong kids. Not even the bullies.

Teens know how commonplace bullying is, and that anyone can be a victim of it. They wanted to pay it forward, so if they were ever bullied, they would hope people would do the same for them.

Curious about how we use diary studies daily? Check out an interview with one of our diary study experts.

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