Evaluating Video and Chat Based Focus Groups

Emily James

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As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    Online focus groups have evolved far past their initial iteration, which emerged back in the early 1940s as face-to-face discussions between researchers and respondents. Through technological innovation and specific needs and requests from stakeholders have pushed insight experts and developers to work together to bring focus groups into the 21st century time and time again, creating new versions of the focus group tool that build on the best traits of the previous iteration.

    Through this, there has emerged two types of focus group tool created to fulfil the needs of both stakeholders and modern researchers – the chat-based focus group and the video focus group. Both of these focus group tools are in wide use today for differing purposes, and insight teams need to understand how they work to figure out which one to use in their research experiences.

    The Benefits of Both

    From the mouths of stakeholders to the ears of researchers, stakeholder needs are a typical catalyst for innovation in the insights industry, which means that any benefits are a direct result of what stakeholders need. But not just stakeholders, the needs of modern researchers are also a catalyst for innovation, making data collection and analysis easier or more efficient will always benefit today’s insight experts who have a lot more responsibilities to contend with than their predecessors.

    Live chat focus groups are one of the first attempts to replicate the traditional in-person focus group in an online environment, as such they have been around for a few years and insight experts have created some great research experiences featuring this focus group tool. The benefits for live chat focus groups are many, with those associated with being in an online environment have been the main selling point to stakeholders, including:

    • Eradicates geographical limitations – stakeholders can communicate with a larger pool of respondents from anywhere despite the distance and time.
    • Allows for more focus groups to be conducted as they are more efficient and it eradicates the need for travel time. This encourages more mass qualitative research.
    • Saves money on extraneous expenses that would have been spent on an in-person focus group, so that money to can go towards incentives or any further research.

    But other advantages include anonymity (not able to judge anyone as it’s face to face, more comfortable to speak their truths), and the ability to download transcripts to peruse later (better for more leisurely data analysis afterwards without the pressure of moderation at the same time). Another advantage that’s more unique to live chat focus groups is that researchers can take text at ‘face’ value so to speak; they have no other context to challenge the interpretation of the text, so they cannot look deeper into things to try and gather another meaning.

    As with the live chat focus groups, video focus groups have all the same advantages or being in an online environment. Video focus groups are an advance on live chat focus groups, as they were created to facilitate face-to-face conversation and deeper emotional connection than the live chat focus groups were able to achieve.

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    Through continuous innovation there has emerged two types of focus group tool created to fulfil the needs of both stakeholders and modern researchers - how can we know which one is best to use?

    Emotional connection has a great influence over decisions made, and leads to a lot of specific insights on consumer behaviour through this live connection and conversation. Insight experts are able to use that emotion to form deeper interpretations (from facial and tonal expression). And while being on camera might be a daunting prospect for respondents, this virtual face-to-face discussion can be more comfortable as respondents get into the swing of things because it’s easier to speak your truth than to write it.

    Video focus groups also have the facility to record the discussions held online, so researchers and stakeholders can go back over them in their own time to generate more insights or different insights depending on the interpretation used.

    Some Challenges to Consider

    Stakeholders will always have new needs and requests for focus groups, we need to keep building on the versions we have to create better focus group tools and experiences. With video being the newest iteration of online focus group, some of the challenges around this centre on the technological literacy and skill of both researchers and respondents. Not all respondents like being on camera, so their comfort could stop them from fully participating in the research experience. Live chat focus groups will solve this particular problem, so using the video and live chat options for one research project to get the most out of respondents could be the answer here.

    With new qualitative focus group tools comes the need for upskilling insight experts, so they know how to use all tools to the best of their ability and be able to generate great data and insights.

    One challenge here would be for researchers to understand how to moderate the respondents in both tools, as there are different considerations to account for, such as group management (making sure everyone has a turn and no one respondent dominates the conversation, the ways to manage this will be different for each tool); and another challenge would be to understand the different levels of data analysis needed for the different outputs of both tools. Analysing the live chat transcript will need more traditional qual analysis techniques, whereas the video analysis will require a lot more modern analysis techniques and tools that identify and take into account significant emotion.

    As another challenge to consider, the comfort level of participants definitely provides a challenge to researchers. Showing their face on camera will undoubtedly turn many potential respondents off participating in the first place, so making a safe space for respondents to feel comfortable enough to share their faces as well as their experiences is a challenge – each respondent will need something different to help them feel safe. But even after this effort, another challenge emerges in that respondents might not know how to operate their cameras or be able to troubleshoot any technological issues that bars them from participating. While the live chat focus group means respondents don’t need a camera, this last consideration applies to both video and live chat focus groups, as the technological nature of both tools automatically bars some necessary customers from participating in market research.

    Taking this thought further, another challenge could be that, even now with a great market for commercial technology, there is still a significant amount of the population who do not have any access to technology or if they do it might not be reliable access. So, these online tools both present challenges when it comes to reaching that particular demographic.

    There are obviously many more challenges to consider for both focus group tools, more than we would be able to highlight in one section of a blog, but these ones highlighted above are some of the most important challenges that insight teams will need to mitigate.

    When to Use Video and Chat-Based Focus Groups

    Even though video focus groups were created as an answer to the limitations of live chat focus groups, that doesn’t mean that live chat focus groups don’t have a place in an insight expert’s arsenal. Taking into account all of the benefits and challenges for both focus group tools outlined above, here is a little guide on when to use video and live chat focus group tools:

    Live Chat

    Live-chat focus groups can be used in a few different scenarios – as a first example, they should be used for comfort – for those who don’t feel comfortable talking on screen but through text instead, or for when the topic is a sensitive matter and those respondents need a safe, anonymous space to really tell their stories. This way, through text, they can think about how they’re going to word their opinions and experiences to communicate them well. But these experiences should be for when you have a bit of time to spare, as it takes longer to express thoughts in words than it does to speak them.

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    Live chat and video focus groups are great online qualitative tools both with their own benefits and challenges that are perfect for different research experiences.

    Secondly, live chat focus groups can be used when a larger group is needed. Similar to when you see discussion threads and comment conversations on social media, live chat focus groups lend themselves more towards a larger group conversation. Some sources say that these focus groups can have up to 20 people in their discussion, but insight experts should note that the more people there are the more difficult it will be to moderate and get everyone’s full views.


    There is a lot of hype for video focus groups at the moment, for very valid reasons. Video focus groups should be used when stakeholders need a stronger connection to their customers and consumers; these focus groups lend themselves to more intimate conversations, with a smaller respondent group so that everyone has their say and insight experts can moderate effectively.

    These focus groups can also be used for when stakeholders need insights in a shorter time frame, as they can observe the focus groups as they happen and gather emotional insights to action in real-time while they wait for the official report to come later. These emotional insights are deeper than the text-based insights of the live chat focus groups, and so help stakeholders to better understand consumer behaviours and actions – as such these focus groups help us gain a window into the consumer decision-making journey.

    If you'd like to learn more about the history of focus groups, best practices and how to make the most of this valuable research method - check out our complete guide.

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