Even before COVID-19 limited people being in close proximity, qualitative researchers were incorporating online and virtual research methodologies into their studies. There are many reasons why researchers may decide to conduct an online focus group. Sometimes geography makes it difficult to to gather people to a central meeting place, or perhaps the focus group is centered on Gen-Z or millennials, and it’s easier for this cohort to join virtually, rather than in person. Online focus groups are here to stay, even when physical distancing measures are relaxed due to COVID-19.
Here are three tips to improve conducting online focus groups:
1. Reduce the number of participants—In-person focus groups typically have between 6-12 participants, but when conducting a virtual focus group, it’s easier if that number is reduced to between 5-7. Having a smaller online group makes it easier for all participants to engage, not to mention there is less strain on the moderator. With fewer participants in each online group, researchers will often conduct more online focus groups to ensure that there is adequate representation and opportunity to hear from enough people so that patterns between responses can be identified.
2. Expand recruitment—Since moderators aren’t restrained by geography, recruitment can be expanded to include participants across a much larger area. Nationwide recruitment agencies can cast a wider net to help researchers find the best, qualified participants for online focus groups. Focus group recruitment agencies are well-versed in finding qualified participants to populate studies, whether or not they are held in-person or virtually. Most recruiting agencies already manage confidentiality agreements by email and incentive payments by electronic transfers.
3. Choose the right online platform tools—Since COVID-19, most of us are familiar with Zoom. While Zoom is a fine choice for hosting online focus groups, there are other options. Google Hangouts, WebEx, Teams are some examples of other options for hosting virtual focus groups. Some tools to look for when hosting a virtual focus group are easy recording, the ability to break out into subgroups, and chat features. Keep in mind that if you’re hosting a health care study, where privacy about sensitive topics is concerned, look for hosting platforms that can anonymize participants. There are more possibilities of technological frustrations when using online platforms, so be prepared with a phone and back-up audio recorder.
While hosting virtual focus groups requires a bit more effort, they are equally effective in the types of insights that can be gleaned. As always, the best outcomes happen when partnering with nationwide market research firms and recruitment agencies.