In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the basics of focus groups and in-depth interviews. This blog will cover online focus groups as another tool that qualitative research consultants use when conducting market research.
Simply put, online focus groups are another qualitative marketing research methodology that uses internet technology and connectivity. Similar to in-person focus groups, online focus groups are conducted with a number of participants (typically ranging between 10-25) plus a moderator. It isn’t uncommon for observers to have access to the same portal so they can “watch” the focus group in real time. These are usually done on through a secure website or portal. Moderators will post their questions and respondents will post their comments.
Two common types of online focus groups include bulletin board and real-time. Some moderators prefer bulletin focus groups because they are easier to moderate and don’t require participants to take part at the same time. Rather, participants, and observers, log in anytime during a bulletin board session. Bulletin focus groups can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the scope of the research project.
Recruiting for Online Focus Groups
It isn’t uncommon for qualitative research consultants to rely on nationwide recruitment services to continuously screen and invite participants to join a study, especially if it is ongoing. When recruiting for focus groups, whether online or in person, recruitment agencies will make sure to screen respondents for access to reliable internet connectivity.
Real-time focus groups require fast typing skills and more coordination is required to moderate these groups. While they offer many of the same benefits as bulletin board type groups, depending on the subject of the study, moderators will often decide which style of focus group is most appropriate after considering a number of factors.
Unless a focus group is being conducted using video conferencing, what gets lost in online focus groups are the moderator being able to “read” the participants’ body language, which can sometimes convey a lot. This is why it’s important to work with a research and consulting firm that is familiar and experienced in designing qualitative market studies.
Best uses for online focus groups
Where online focus groups are most effective is for concept testing—advertising or product. Participants are shown concepts online and you record their reactions and preferences. The research consultant can track participants’ product awareness, purchase, and use. If the study is designed to be ongoing for a few months, the researcher can track how awareness, perceptions, behaviors, etc. have possibly changed over time.
Online groups are effective for concept testing. You show respondents concepts online and get their reactions, even showing multimedia concepts. They can be new product concepts or advertising concepts.
Benefits of Online Focus Groups
Whether conducted as real-time or bulletin, online focus groups offer researchers a treasure trove of written qualitative data. In addition to participants posting their responses, opinions, perceptions, and descriptions, they also have the ability to upload pictures or images.
Given that most populations have access to the internet, online focus groups are a cost-effective way to reach diverse geographic areas. If a researcher is conducting a market research study that requires a lot of participants, online focus groups are another way to contain costs, without compromising the quality of the study.
As with any qualitative study, an equally important component is the quality of the participants recruited. Working with a nationwide recruitment agency is always a good idea to make sure the best possible participants are being recruited.