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Best Practices for Running Focus Groups Online

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Best Practices for Running Focus Groups Online

focus groups onlineOver the last couple of decades, the internet, web, social media and email have all combined to dramatically — and in some ways, profoundly — change the design and delivery of market research. One of the most interesting and innovative advancements is running focus groups online.

Indeed, there are some key advantages to running a focus group online vs. a traditional in-person setting, including:

  • The reduction or removal of geographic restrictions, which is especially valuable for businesses that are not located in highly populated urban centers, or that are not close to their target participants (this is often the case with B2B manufacturing businesses that need to get input from customers and influencers spread out across the country).
  • The potential for participants to — pardon the pun! — be more focused and therefore more forthcoming and honest, since they are not looking to others in the group for cues or approval (with this being said, distractibility and peer pressure are inherent risk factors in any focus group regardless of the medium, and must be properly mitigated and controlled).
  • Setup and administration costs are usually lower, and focus groups can run for several days or weeks without incurring unsustainable additional costs.
  • The approach may be particularly beneficial for online businesses or those that target a more digitally-savvy audience (e.g. mobile app developers targeting 30-40 year old business executives may find running a focus group online more beneficial than a retirement home targeting 65+ year old seniors).

However, successfully running a focus group online is not an out-of-the-box, template-based, or set-it-and-forget it project. Like any other qualitative data gathering method, it must follow a set of fundamental principles and proven best practices, including the following: 

  • Recruit Properly & Strategically

GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — doesn’t change when the medium shifts from an in-person setting, over the phone, or online. Failing to recruit properly and strategically will (probably) result in a lot of information, but precious little insight. The former is just noise. The latter is actionable intelligence.

  • Moderate Professionally

Ironically, some of the factors that make running a focus group online advantageous — such as convenience and anonymity — can become risk factors as well. For example, discussions and debates can quickly turn into flame wars, or on the other end of the spectrum, participants can start to “group think” (i.e. there is an artificial level of agreeability and consensus because certain participants have more domineering personalities, or recruiting wasn’t done properly and some participants just want to get it over with so they can get their incentive, etc.).

  • Control Group Sizes

The specific needs of each market research project should determine the size of a focus group online. The larger the group, the more difficult it’s likely going to be to generate meaningful, quality conversations and debates.

  • Leverage Multimedia & Interactivity 

Some “old school” online focus groups are basically just online forums — similar to what online learning (e-learning) looked like 20 years ago when it started to emerge as a viable alternative to in-class instruction. However, things are much different today, and as such online focus groups should make use of multimedia and interactive elements like on-demand and streaming video, audio, photos, smartboards, polls, and so on.

Learn More

At Communications For Research, we have in-depth experience across every aspect of running a focus group online, including: defining the research problem, screening and recruiting qualified participants, professionally managing and moderating online interaction, collecting and analyzing qualitative data, and creating stakeholder-specific reports (i.e. executives get the actionable insights they need, as do sales, product development, marketing, finance, customer service, and so on).    

To learn more, contact us today and schedule a chat with co-CEO Colson Steber. At CFR, we know how to ensure that your online focus group is a profitable investment — not a sunk expense.

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