I ran my first Live ChatMR on our FlexMR platform back in 2007 and, thinking back, there are quite a few things which I have discovered in the intervening 5 years and 50+ live online groups that I wish I'd know then. Here's a list of 5 handy hints. It should be noted that here I'm talking about live chat focus groups with around 6-10 participants lasting for 1 - 2 hours, rather than asynchronous question boards.
1) Focus, Focus, Focus!
In all types of focus groups, having a specific topic for discussion really helps, but for online groups this is even more important. Not everyone is a top touch-typist, or used to using Instant Messaging and quite as quick at responding as you'd like. This means that a jam-packed topic guide however carefully planned, might go out of the window and you find that you never get to that vital last section.
2) Be a Top Touch-Typist
It's far from essential (especially when you can pre-load questions and prompts as you can in FlexMR's focus group facility), but 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 Typing' disc?
3) Have a Road Map for the Group
Participating in an online focus group could be a disenfranchising experience if you've not taken part in a group before and aren't sure what is expected of you and when. If you're talking about a process or customer journey, why not tell participants at the start of the discussion what you'll be discussing using a diagram or map, then refer back to it throughout the group, for instance at the start of each section? This helps frame the discussion and participant expectations and can also help reassure them that they won't be expected to hang on online all afternoon!
4) Mix It Up
A variety of methods is even more important in online groups than in face-to-face groups as they help to break up large amounts of text-based discussion. Images to be annotated, quick 'shows of hands' and showing stimuli (images and video) break the experience up for participants, and also allow a bit of 'breathing space' for participants, moderator and any clients viewing as well as facilitating great feedback on ads and concepts.
5) Respond and Reflect
Good practice in a face-to-face group but even more important when moderating online! Without feedback, response and reflection, participants start to feel that they are involved in an online survey rather than a live discussion. Further, reflecting on people's points, asking for examples, sympathising, explaining and so on go a long way to showing that they are engaged with a real researcher and not a chat-bot!
Why not share your top tips and online focus group experiences with us using the comments form below?