Online focus groups are divided into two main types; the more common chat focus groups and the new webcam audio based focus groups. The suitability of each type is dependent on the participants Internet connection and whether they have access to a webcam and set of suitable earphones.
Chat online focus groups
Chat based online focus groups involve a group of people coming together in a work environment called the ‘workspace’ to view images, videos or just to discuss a particular topic. They chat about their views, thoughts and opinions, and give you the perfect environment to ask consumers why they think a certain way. You might ask people if they would purchase a proposed product or service, and if not, what needs to be done to improve the offer so they would be more likely to buy. It goes without saying that these are the types of conversations you, or your client, should be having with the target market on a regular basis.
This type of focus group provides a degree of personal anonymity and participants are highly engaged, often commenting how enjoyable the experience was. This makes moderating the group an easy process and is particularly evident when running chat based online focus groups where participants enjoy greater level of personal anonymity.
Webcam & audio based online focus groups
Webcam & audio based online focus groups are more popular in metro and city areas where there is access to high speed ADSL broadband. Video and audio groups requires the participant to have access to a web camera, a set of earphones and a microphone. The video and audio session can also be recorded and played back later.
Which method you use is based on a number of factors including the availability of webcams (most computers are now being shipped with cameras), the type of questions you want answering, the sensitivity of the topic, and the speed and reliability of the participant’s Internet connection.
The types of market research suited to live (real-time) online focus groups include:
- Advertising research
- Brand research
- Website evaluations
- Website usability testing
- Product & service evaluation
- Testing business ideas
- Business start-up research
- Consumer groups
The information captured from both types of online focus group is comprehensive and accurate. Everything that occurs in the group workspace is recorded in real-time and can be accessed online at anytime or downloaded in a comprehensive report.
A typical online focus group will run between 60 and 90 minutes and all that’s needed to login to the group is a computer, a compatible website browser such as Internet explorer, Chrome, Safari or Firefox and an ADSL (broadband) Internet connection.
Planning for a real-time (live) online focus group
Like anything in business the probability of success is determined by the quality of the work put in to the preparation. In this case the success of your online focus group is determined by the time you spend preparing your research plan or discussion guide. Like most projects, putting together a group typically adheres to the 80/20 rule, with 80% of your time spent preparing the plan and the remaining 20% actually conducting and analysing the group.
The GroupQuality Plan Manager provides you with all the help and tools you need to design a simple research plan. A research plan can be as simple as a discussion guide, which includes discussion topics about a brand, product, or customer experience. It may also include what we call chat prompts, which are mini questions you can quickly add to the chat box to save your typing fingers. You can also choose to include survey questions, videos, images, websites, and web pages.
Clear research objectives
As with traditional style focus group research, to effectively answer your questions you must identify and define the research problem. The research problem is primarily determined by the question or questions you need answered.
To understand your research problem ask the following questions:
- What is happening that requires research to be conducted?
- What is it that you want to know and how will the answers be used?
- What decisions will be made from the answers revealed in this research?
- Who is the information for and what do the stakeholders have invested in the answer?
If you can answer these simple questions you are well on the way to pulling together the information needed to construct a GroupQuality™ research plan. For a 30, 60 or 90-minute group session it is important not to try and answer too many questions, or tackle a large number of topics. Narrowing down the research plan to three to five related topics would ensure that you have enough time for a detailed online group discussion. If you have more than five questions or topics to cover then rate them in order of importance and pick the top three to five. If you still need to cover more topics we suggest you schedule an additional online focus group.
5 steps to online focus groups success
- Schedule groups to run on a day and time that suits you and your participants. It is recommended that a real-time group be limited to a maximum of 90 minutes. After this time you may find participants start to get fatigued and the quality of the discussion may start to deteriorate. Attendance and participation is greatly improved if you spend the time ensuring that everyone has access to a computer they are familiar with. Evening sessions tend to work well for groups that focus on generating consumer insights, and late afternoon is typically convenient for business groups. You may find timing is also dependent on the demographics and location of your participants.
- Create plans using the powerful tools available in GroupQuality’s plan and media managers. The research plan is the most important part of the online process. Get this right and you will have a template model you can reuse in the future to effectively cut down your group preparation time. To identify the visual material you will need to present during your groups session, invest time scribbling down ideas and drawing out some rough outlines of the session timeline. This will help you plan for the digital assets (images, videos, .swf files etc.) you will need to upload to your media manager before creating the media pages for your group. Once you have created media pages using the comprehensive web page authoring tools, you can quickly add them to your plan timeline.
- Invite participants by sending email invitations and group reminders using GroupQuality’s member panel manager. For real-time group research we recommend you keep your group between 6 and 8 participants. Less than 6 may not provide the level of interaction needed to maximise the results and more than 8 may be a challenge for a single moderator to effectively manage. For example, an ideal size for a real-time online focus group is 8 participants, 1 moderator and 1 or 2 observers. Inviting participants with a personalised message will be the first step in establishing trust between you and a participant. If it is deemed practical, we also recommend you make verbal contact with the participants (phone or Skype) prior to sending out the invitations. Personal contact will provide you with an opportunity to introduce yourself and answer any questions participants may have about the proposed group session. By taking the time to make personal contact you will immediately improve group attendance and make participants feel a little more confident and comfortable when attending a real-time online focus group.
- Moderating or facilitating your real-time group session is easy when using GroupQuality’s unique moderator’s control panel. The control panel is located in the moderators view of the workspace and makes running a real-time group session as easy as clicking a button with your mouse. The control panel will help you manage the plan timeline, keep track of each participant, identify participant contributions and keep the discussion moving along in the right direction. The moderator’s workspace control panel has been designed to enable a single moderator or facilitator to effectively and efficiently manage an online focus group without requiring additional assistance. You can minimise and maximise the control panel and quickly launch the online web-cam or interactive whiteboard.
- Reports generated are immediately available once the group has concluded. Reports can be viewed online or downloaded for detailed analysis. The reporting tools within GroupQuality™ will help you search and review the chat transcripts to find interesting points of discussion. The comprehensive reporting tools enable you to search and download both qualitative and quantitative results. The reporting tools for real-time online groups include a built-in chat transcript analysis tool. The text analyser will identify the top ten recurring keyword phrases. They are displayed and filtered by phrase length, occurrence and a chat weighting score. You can eliminate words and also jump to a phrase in the transcript by simply clicking on a text phrase. The reporting section also includes a full timeline view of the group’s activity as it occurred, and a comprehensive usability reporting section for those who wish to conduct online remote website usability testing.
Preparing people for your group
People are referred to in GroupQuality as ‘Participants’ and for your online live group they can come from a number of different sources. Most organisations have a customer list or member database and this is a great place to start. A professional recruitment agency can assist in sourcing individuals for your group either from external audited research panel lists, or by helping you recruit from your own customer lists.
Note: We have specialised expert certified partners who can help you source your participants if required. Simply send us a Support ticket to find out more.
You might also consider creating an online intercept survey for your website to capture participants, or by using twitter or Facebook to distribute a participant screening survey. GroupQuality’s online survey tool will provide you with the tools to do this. Once qualified through your screening survey you can assign chosen participants to your group and invite them to a scheduled session.
For the best results consider participants who you feel will contribute openly and constructively, but don’t discriminate! Sometimes people we think may be too opinionated can in fact be the most communicative in-group discussions. While we may not always want to hear their criticisms, it can be more insightful than those participants who are simply willing to agree.
Things to consider when choosing participants:
- Demographics such as age, income, education etc.
- Customer behaviour e.g. do they use a certain type of product?
- Online behaviour e.g. Internet usage and computer literacy.
- Availability to participate at a time that suits you.
- Geographic region.
Information collected from the participants prior to the group will help you tailor the language of your resesrch to better engage participants.
To help with eliminating any technology compatibility issues on the participant‘s, moderators or observer’s chosen computer we have included an automated browser test link in the group invitation template. This is a website hyperlink we have placed in the invitation and reminder email which, when clicked, will take the individual to an automatic browser compatibility check. If the browser is not correctly configured the results displayed will point to the information needed to fix the issue, and download the relevant software to participate in a live online group.
For live (real-time) groups, participants, observers and moderators are required to login to the workspace using one of the following:
PC users: please use Internet explorer 8+ or the latest version of Firefox, Chrome or Safari
Mac users: please use the latest version of Firefox, Chrome or Safari
Please click on the following link to check the compatibility of your website browser and update as instructed. https://groupquality.com/browsertest/
Please note: unfortunately we do not support the old Internet Explorer 6 or 7 any more and to make the most of your account we suggest you upgrade to Internet Explorer 8+ (9 is recommended) . GroupQuality requires Flash 11+ installed to use the webcam and shared interactive whiteboard.
Live online focus groups require good instructional content for participants to develop ideas, solve problems and make decisions. A research plan or discussion guide needs to provide enough information to generate group discussion, form opinions and reveal complex issues. Within GroupQuality there are a set of comprehensive authoring tools to facilitate creativity in research planning and to draw out important issues.
It is always recommended that you choose group stimulus that is engaging and clear. Be aware that participants perceive information in the context that it is presented. This means that misrepresented or poorly constructed information can skew the results of your online focus group. The online digital medium should be considered when transferring traditional paper-based content to the online workspace. The reading attention span of participants for online material is shorter than it would be when viewed on paper. The reading habits for online content will typically follow an “F” shaped pattern on the screen - from left to right, top to bottom. Too much content on the screen will result in the moderator spending more time explaining the content rather than extracting the opinion or views of each group participant.
Often you will need to reward or provide incentives to participants for attending your group. This can be done any number of ways. By either providing a gift voucher redeemable with your company or client’s company, or by providing cash incentives distributed through online payment portals such as PayPal. Make sure the value of the reward is commensurate of the type of group you are conducting and the level of involvement required from participants.
A word of caution: it is often frowned upon to use the products or services from a company commissioning or conducting the research to entice people to participate. It could be construed that this will favorably bias the results of the group towards a positive opinion about the company. A participant may speak favorably of a company knowing they will receive a gift of value from them. It is recommended that you only communicate the value of the incentive to the participants in instances where you are rewarding participants with company gifts in this way.
Online focus group incentives range from as little as $30 to as much as $200, but should be generally less than those offered for attending a traditional focus groups - after all they are not travelling to participate and can sit comfortably at home or work. After the completion of your group quickly follow through with the incentive and thank your participants either by voice call (phone or Skype) or email. In another 6 months you may want the opportunity to run another group with any number of the same participants so it pays to leave them with a positive impression of the experience.
What is the role of the moderator?
A moderator’s primary role is to keep group discussion on subject, elicit thoughts, and to explore opinions, feelings and beliefs. It is important to remember that it’s not a moderator’s role to force an answer from the group, or talk down a participant’s contribution. It is okay to guide the group using the research plan and to explore new paths of group discussion. As a moderator you should initially focus on ensuring each participant contributes to the discussion topic, answers all questions and stays on track.
Top 7 moderator tips
A moderator may face a number of challenges when conducting a real-time online focus groups. Here are the top 7 suggestions on how to overcome them:
- If one participant tries to dominate the session, the moderator should invite each person to speak in turn. Use the Plan Manager section of your GroupQuality account to build some predefined chat prompts to help diffuse or deflect the discussion.
- Avoid personal confrontation and allow the group to police itself (e.g. “do others in the group agree?”). Make sure you have defined the group rules before the group discussion begins. Presenting a page to the group with a basic list of rules or guidelines to follow can do this.
- Participants will have many different attitudes and prejudices. Don’t ignore these - work with them. Just say: “We seem to have a difference of opinion here. Let’s talk about it together. Why do we all think differently on this topic?” Then let the group discuss it. Use differences of opinion as a topic of discussion. As a moderator always avoid taking sides!
- If the group is slow off the mark promote and foster discussion. Ask open- ended questions. Ones that cannot be answered with just a YES or a NO.
- From the beginning, adopt a `listening’ rather than a `questioning’ approach. Start with general issues and use your moderator control panel to make sure you cover the issues you need to cover. Questions do not need to be followed in the order they are presented in the timeline. If the discussion naturally leads to a different topic follow this, but make sure everything is eventually covered.
- Take issues ‘offline’. If things get heated during the session, it may be wise to ‘park’ the issue and address it later, either as a private chat session (one on one with the individual) or as part of a separate group discussion.
- Dealing with technical issues. Despite planning and practice your group members may still run into trouble. If a participant gets disconnected make sure they know they can log right back in and rejoin the group at anytime. Keep a phone number or email address of the participant nearby in case you need someone to follow-up to make sure the participant is able to continue.
- Be prepared and test your research plan prior to the scheduled group.
- Document any group rules and communicate them to members at the start as either an introductory page in the workspace or in the initial group chat. Ensure these rules are reinforced during the discussion.
- Ensure individuals engage with one another.
- Provide all participants the opportunity to contribute.
- Promote healthy discussion through open-ended questions.
- Summarise key points of discussion, but do not lead.
- Ensure group sessions run on time and stay on track.
Checklist for conducting a live research group
The way in which you use GroupQuality depends on the research tool you have selected for you particular research session. When running a group you can follow this checklist:
- Determine your research objective
- Decide on the type of research group you will be running
- Determine your target audience profile
- Determine the group time - be mindful of convenient times for you target audience as this will assist the participation and response rates
- Source and recruit participants
- Enter selected participants into Group Quality’s Member Manager
- Invite participants
- Manage participants using Group Quality’s Member Manager
- Plan your research questions and/or plans
- Load your research questions and/or plans in to Group Quality
- Run through the research session beforehand to ensure it is structured as you wish
- Run the group
- Remunerate participants
- Analyse results and download the reports