Webcam on a keyboard representing online focus groups

How to ensure your Online Focus Group is a success...

 Conducting an online focus group is a highly effective way to draw insights from a range of participants without worrying about geographical boundaries. However, an online focus group has its own set of challenges when it comes to recruitment, moderation, and technical considerations. Here are some suggestions on how to make certain that your next online focus group is a great success.

Get the Glitches Worked Out

One of the key differences between an online and a traditional focus group is the technical aspect. 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. 

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. 

Speaking of delays, don’t wait until a couple minutes before the group is scheduled to start to test the software. Log on early and run some tests to make certain that it is running fine. Then, once the participants have logged on, do test responses with them to ensure everything is working on their end. A good way to do that is to simply ask everybody to introduce themselves.   

Recruit Smart 

You do not want your online discussion to turn into a software tutorial, so be careful to recruit people who already have an appropriate level of tech savviness. They don’t need to be experts, but they should be comfortable with computers and the internet. The best way to find this out is to include a question in the screener that asks something like “Which social media networks do you use, and how often?” or “What type of smartphone do you have?” 

It is inevitable that some participants will drop out in advance, whether it’s because they can no longer commit the time or because of technical issues that have arisen. To prepare for this, remember to over-recruit. You should also keep in regular communication with the recruits (but don’t bombard them!) prior to the focus group, telling them what the next steps are. This will help them mentally prepare for the focus group and make them less likely to drop out at the last minute. 

When recruiting, take advantage of the fact that this is an online focus group and try to get a good geographical spread of participants. With a traditional focus group, you generally have no choice but to get people from the same area, but an online one frees you up to select participants from virtually anywhere. Learning the thoughts and opinions of people from a diverse array of locations could yield some very helpful and unexpected insights. 

Woman taking part in online focus groups on her laptop

Choose an Experienced Moderator 

A focus group is really only as good as its moderator. The moderator has to juggle several responsibilities, including asking the right questions, posing follow-up questions, ensuring that everyone is participating, and keeping the flow of discussion moving at the right pace. Moderating an online focus group brings its own unique challenges, since there is now a technical element to consider. 

When interviewing online discussions, moderators typically need to be fast typists for the text based tasks and to utilise chat functions. They also need to be able to quickly read through the responses they are receiving to make certain that the answers they are getting are useful. Further, they need to be able to rapidly formulate follow-up questions to some of those answers when more clarification or information is needed. Naturally they also must be comfortable with the technical requirements of an online group discussion. 

Because the moderator’s personality is obscured by a computer screen, he or she must be able to convey personal warmth and humour through the screen when communicating with respondents. This is important because the participants will be more engaged and forthcoming with their answers if they like and want to interact with the moderator. The moderator should also keep a sharp eye out for who is not providing as many responses, and be ready to encourage those people to offer their thoughts. 

Be Prepared 

When all is said and done, preparation is the cornerstone of well-run online groups. Take time to choose the right software provider and test the software, recruit the right people and give them the instructions they need in advance, and get an experienced moderator who arrives well-prepared, and you can expect to have a very successful group discussion.

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