Online Focus Groups: The Complete End-to-End Guide

Sophie Grieve-Williams

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Sophie Grieve-Williams

    Online focus groups remain a staple in market research methodology, and for good reason. They are a crucial method that produces emotionally-charged insights steeped in relevance for stakeholders to take forth and use within decision-making processes across the organisation.

    Focus groups have been around for a while, as such insight teams are well-versed in the ins and outs of focus group design and implementation, but guiding stakeholders through the process is another thing entirely. So here is an end-to-end guide that will light the way to success using online focus groups.

    What Makes a Great Focus Group?

    Insight teams are typically clued up on the best ways to conduct focus group research, but this end-to-end guide wouldn’t be complete without some best practices to make sure our focus group research is as impactful as we can possibly make it. There are three best practices outlined in our other blog on online focus groups, exploring creativity, using focus groups for agile qualitative data collection, the impact of group limits, and the use of stimuli. Want to see these best practices in action? Check out the infographic below.

    Online focus groups - an end-to-end guide

    In another infographic, I talk about the need to be creative when it comes to using focus groups, to pull away from the traditional, straight-forward discussion towards some truly immersive research experiences. Immersive experiences are brilliant to ensure participant engagement – something researchers struggle with immensely as consumers are more clued up to the value of their data and are more obsessed with instant entertainment. In this previous infographic I used the example of Netflix Watch Parties, where participants can watch some marketing adverts or training videos and use the focus group feature to comment their opinions in the moment unfiltered.

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    Online focus groups can be a valuable source of insights, but it is important to know where, when and how to use them.

    But being more creative doesn’t mean you have to completely redesign your focus group; it could be that you can use more interesting stimuli or prompts to spark deeper discussions. Stimuli such as images, audio or even video are now possible in certain focus group tools like FlexMR’s Focus GroupMR; and not only these, but other tools are integrated into it, such as SmartboardMR and Quick PollMR. All of these choices bring a new level of immersion in the research without throwing away the traditional format of a focus group.

    Scaling Online Focus Groups

    Scaling this up to make it more agile is a key challenge faced by the insights industry, but insight experts have deduced ways of making the focus group insight generation process a lot more agile. As the focus groups are online, that alone makes this process more efficient compared to in-person focus groups. However, using an loose structure made for more iterative questioning and moderation allows for more agile data collection within the focus group.

    Combining this with features such as observation rooms, stakeholders can then not only get insights in real-time to implement into decision-making processes before the official report, but insight professionals can also find deeper insights faster, so focus groups don’t have to be quite as long if the right line of questioning is pursued.

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    Insight teams are typically clued up on the best ways to conduct focus group research, but this end-to-end guide wouldn’t be complete without some best practices.

    Setting group limits can also help focus groups be more agile, using the lower numbers in each focus group can help speed discussions along as there are less people to voice their opinion, and more focus groups can be conducted at this level of discussion to meet the sample quota. Limiting group numbers in this way also helps the moderator focus on managing the discussion easier, while also probing deeper into specific comments made.

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