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How to ensure your online focus groups are a success

Online focus group research is an excellent methodology that should be part of every market researcher’s toolkit. The benefits speak for themselves: they are fast and cost effective, give high-quality, in-the-moment insights and because there are no geographical limitations, they’re great for engaging with hard-to-reach respondents. However, as with any research methodology, things can still go wrong - which is why we’ve created our list of tips to ensure your online sessions are a success, every time.

Don't let things drag on too long

Gathering insights from a group of people online can take a fair bit of time - and the more participants you add to your online focus group research, the more time you will need. Despite this, it’s really important that your participants don’t get bored and disengage - especially when it’s so easy for people to withdraw online - which is why you should make sure your online focus group doesn’t drag on too long. We’d generally recommend limiting sessions to a maximum of two hours so your respondents stay interested - and make sure you offer a variety of tasks and activities such as role playing, rapid-fire discussions or word association to keep them engaged, too.

Make sure you limit the numbers

It’s not just timings that can impact your online focus group - you should also make sure you limit your sessions to a certain number of people so you can keep control. We would suggest a maximum of six participants in any one session so that you can give all of your participants the attention they deserve. Online discussions can gather energy quite quickly, so a smaller group means you can keep up when the discussion gets going. And don’t forget to think about technical considerations, too - some platforms might struggle if there are more than four or five people taking part, so make sure you thoroughly test your software before deciding on final numbers.

Online focus group research

Go with the flow - within reason!

The secret to a good online focus group is to create an open discussion that generates a natural flow of ideas and unlocks in-depth insights. This is especially true with online sessions where ideas and conversations move and change direction quickly - but you need to make sure you keep the group under control, too, responding to comments and ideas as they emerge whilst still gently guiding the discussion in the right direction so you cover all the necessary points. It’s about striking a balance: you should be flexible enough to dig out those insights but not so much that you lose control.

Choose the right moderator

In order to get the most out of your online focus group, your moderator needs to have a pretty broad range of skills. Firstly, they should be able to strike a balance between free-flowing discussion and following the structure outlined in the brief, as well as keeping track of time and asking the right questions at the right time to gently probe and draw out insights.

Not only that, but they also need to be comfortable in an online setting: ideally they should be fast typists that are able to quickly read through responses and formulate follow up questions, smoothly move between tasks and control the technology to enable things such as screen sharing and on-screen annotation. Finally, they should also be able to build a rapport with participants from behind a computer screen at the same time, too. That’s quite a lot to ask - which is why you need an experienced moderator who is right for the job and can get the most out of your focus group.

Online focus group research

Always, always over-recruit

The secret to a successful online session is all in the planning - which is why you need to make sure you’ve got a backup plan in place in case of any no-shows on the day. By making sure you always over-recruit, you can ensure you are completely prepared for every eventuality with fully validated participants waiting in the wings so you don’t have to rush around on the hunt for replacements at the last minute. We would recommend recruiting 3 for 2 to attend, 4 for 3 to attend, 6 for 4 to attend and so on, depending on the size of your group. Check out more advice on over-recruits here.

Select the right software

Even if everything else goes according to plan, your software choice can make or break your online focus group - so you need to carefully consider which software you will choose and whether it suits your needs. Is it secure enough to ensure the level of privacy you need? Is it easy to use? Can it be white labelled for a seamless extension of your brand? There are a number of tools out there that allow you to host insightful online focus groups on a budget, from Google Hangouts, a free tool which allows users to participate in text, voice or video chats either in a group of one-to-one setting to AdobeConnect, a web conferencing software that offers immersive online meeting experiences and recording and editing tools for easy data analysis and also Zoom, a video conferencing software with collaboration features such as co-annotation and whiteboarding. Check out the pros and cons of all three here.

Here at Angelfish we can take the headache out of your software and logistics with SubVision, an online platform which supports your qual research from start to finish. Conducted via live webcam and with functions including screen sharing, on screen annotation, backroom chat functions, video uploads and live polls as well as multiple file support, you can set it up for full focus group sessions to make sure you get the most out of your research. Watch the demo to find out more.

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