4 Stellar Tips For A Galactic Online Focus Group

Online research is the favored method of analysis in the marketing industry. Thus, it’s no surprise that online surveys are booming across the internet skies, whereas telephone polling and paper surveys purportedly join that great market research heaven in the sky.

One could say the same regarding online focus groups. Although this mode of qualitative research is nowhere near the thunder of online surveys, advances in tech have made online focus groups feasible and cost-effective for researchers.

With this in mind and as online focus groups navigate to a new normal, it’s wise to stick to simple but stellar points to produce galactic data. We’ve compiled four points, all from thought leaders in the market research industry.

1. Stick to the script: Or more like make sure you have a script to begin with, according to market research company Lead. Online focus groups can become as chaotic as unregulated in-person focus groups—if not shepherded from beginning to end via a script. It should follow this pattern:

1. Welcome participants
2. Introduce the moderator
3. Explain the purpose of the focus group
4. Set the ground rules
5. Ask the first question

Oh, and make sure everything is on (but we’ll get to it). Lead also suggests you exclusively ask open-ended questions (we’re in that qualitative arena, remember) and keep the questions under ten. That way you can “elicit the maximum number of unique ideas from as many people as possible in the time allotted.”

2. Stick to the technology: That should be obvious with any mention of the word “online.” As research company Angelfish states:

Carefully consider which software provider you choose. Security is key, so you want to select a provider that will be able to ensure the privacy of the focus group. You also, of course, want software that everyone is comfortable using and that you feel will facilitate an online discussion with ease.

Moreover, Angelfish advises getting acquainted with the focus group software, testing and re-testing, and ensuring that the participants are educated as well.  As they further state:

Send your focus group participants information in advance on how to log in and use the platform. If they have detailed instructions to read ahead of time, or an instructional video to view, they will be better prepared on the day of the focus group and less likely to experience problems that will cause delays.

Stick to speed: Online focus groups grant several advantages to in-person focus groups: no need to travel, no bias due to physical appearances of others, and no large overheads. They also tend to be faster in pace, which can be dangerous if the moderator/analyst isn’t on his virtual feet all the times.

Basically, be a good typist.

Market research firm Flex says that proper recording tools are important, yet “for ad-hoc responses and probing, it makes life useful to be able to post a speedy reply before the discussion moves on. Now where did I leave that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typin’ disc?”

(A bit of a strange mention in the middle of a market research piece, but whatever…)

4. Stick to moderating: Being an able moderator is more important with online focus groups. Sure, you don’t have to worry about a fist-fight occurring during a sessions (those do happen!), but you don’t have the intimacy available in in-person focus groups.

Beyond typing fast and knowing technology, an able online moderator should have all the qualities of a traditional moderator: listening skills, objectiveness, emotional constraint, etc.

That’s still not enough.

According to market researcher Liz Van Patten of 20/20, an online moderator should be as visual as possible. That means “using colors and images of things like sticky notes to draw participants’ attention to certain areas” and “inserting pop-up pages to writing ‘walls of text.’”

Furthermore, Van Patten suggests:

Keep sessions under 40 minutes, as the internet just brings out the ADD in all of us.
– Don’t skimp on incentives because it’s happening online.




Stick to these four points when conducting an online focus groups and your market research will likely travel to those final frontiers of supernova data. Don’t forget to choose a good provider (whether it’s a third party market research group or software company). They should assist with any and all concerns including the four points mentioned.

Just don’t be disappointed if they don’t have lying around a copy of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typin’.


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