Getting the Most Out of Online Focus Groups

Getting the Most Out of Online Focus Groups

In Market Research by admin

We’ve written a number of blogs about online focus groups, and now that most qualitative research studies are being conducted remotely, we’ll continue to focus on how to get the most out of virtual market research.
There are many facets of online focus groups that are similar to in-person groups, but there are enough subtle differences, and paying attention to these differences will improve your outcomes.

In last week’s blog we discussed ways to improve online focus groups by focusing on the foundational details. Once you’ve selected a platform to host your online group, and you’ve recruited the participants, the next areas to pay attention to are adapting your discussion guide, moderating the group, and preparing for technical glitches.

Adapting the Discussion Guide

In-person focus groups tend to last between 1.5 to 2 hours. Many research consultants tell us that online focus groups are best when they last between 60 minutes and 90 minutes. It is much harder to keep participants engaged virtually, and if the session runs longer than 90 minutes, you’ll likely find the participants to be less engaged. Given a shorter session for virtual groups, the discussion guide needs to be more tightly written. With less time to gain deeper insights, the moderator needs to adapt the discussion
guide and focus only on three to five key topics.

Because virtual groups are less personal, the moderator will need to re-think the introduction exercises so that the group feels comfortable with each other. Before getting into the ‘heart’ of the discussion guide, make sure that all the participants know how to use the online platform tools. If you’re including online break-out sessions, or survey tools, or chats, make sure the participants are familiarized with these tools before your session gets started.


Some moderators find that creating cards for each participant that includes details such as name; geographical location (if hosting participants across a broad geographic region); and two or three key facts about that participant is helpful. Once the online group session gets underway, arranging the cards in the same grid-pattern as the participants appear on the screen can be helpful.

Read the Screen

Experienced moderators know how to ‘read the room’ to ensure that all participants have a chance to engage. The same principle applies to virtual groups, with the moderator needing to ‘read the screen.’ Keep in mind that there are often delays when hosting virtual meetings, and if two or more people try to speak at once, only one voice may come through at a time. Paying close attention to when people are trying to talk will help the moderator know which participant to go back to.

Hosting virtual market research studies can yield the same rich insights as in-person groups, but it does require extra effort. Knowing what to pay attention to and becoming familiar with an online hosting platform will keep your studies on track.

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