Hosting Online Versus In-Person Focus Groups
If you’re choosing between hosting online versus in-person focus groups, there are a few things you need to know before making your choice.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each one, and the one you pick will largely depend on your goals, your budget, and time constraints, among other factors.
You also need to decide if you want to run the focus group yourself or if you want to hire a focus group provider to run it for you. Unless you have a lot of experience running focus groups, it’s usually a good idea to hire a focus group provider.
If you decide to run the focus group yourself, this article will help you run it as effectively and efficiently as possible.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Online Focus Groups
The benefits of online focus groups are:
- You can include people from all over the country — and even all over the world — to get a much more diverse group than you could with an in-person focus group
- You can allow participants to keep themselves anonymous, possibly resulting in more honest and open feedback/opinions
- You will spend less than you would on an in-person focus group
- You can put them together quickly and run more of them than you could with in-person focus groups (and for a lower cost)
The drawbacks of online focus groups are:
- Technology/internet issues can disrupt the focus group and the flow of conversation, even causing you to lose some participants
- Participants can be more easily distracted and thus not give high-quality feedback, and their distractions can also distract other participants
- You won’t be able to see the participants’ body language, which often is helpful to see how participants are reacting to your product/service/message
- You won’t be able to put actual products/prototypes into the participants’ hands, so their feedback may be limited in ways it wouldn’t be if they could handle the product/prototype
The Benefits and Drawbacks of In-Person Focus Groups
The benefits of in-person focus groups are:
- Participants may more easily establish a rapport with each other and the moderator(s), leading to more useful feedback and livelier discussion
- You’ll be able to put the product/prototype in the hands of the participants and get a full view of their body language and reactions all at once, rather than trying to gauge reactions on many different screens
- You don’t have to worry about technology failures or distractions derailing the discussion
The drawbacks of in-person focus groups are:
- You are usually limited to participants in a specific geographic area — you can fly in participants if necessary, but that results in a significant cost increase
- Costs are generally higher, especially if you have to provide for travel or lodging for participants — even without these costs, participants will still expect higher pay
- Participants may not feel comfortable sharing opinions in front of others and may be more susceptible to “groupthink” — agreeing with the group even if they don’t actually share those opinions
Hosting an Online Versus In-Person Focus Group
Hosting an online versus in-person focus group is similar in some ways and different in others. Here are a few things you’ll want to do for both online and in-person focus groups:
- Set clear goals — without clear goals, even if the focus group is run well, you can end up without useful, actionable data
- Hire an experienced moderator/moderators — without an experienced moderator/moderators, the group can easily get off track, no matter whether it’s online or in-person
- Carefully choose participants — the right participants will make or break your focus group. You may need an incredibly diverse group to get the information you need, or you may need a group that’s homogenous. You’ll want to pick 8-12 participants to get as much feedback as possible. Choosing the right group is critical to success.
- Observe and record — while taking notes is always recommended, recording the entire session is ideal. Researchers regularly rewatch focus groups to dive deeper into particular opinions/interactions to better understand the data they’ve collected.
Hosting an Online Focus Group
Now that you have a good understanding of which focus group is best for your research, it’s time to host it.
Hosting an online focus group starts by choosing the type of online focus group you want to run.
You can host a group through video software like Zoom so that you can see all the participants, you can do a conference call, or you can do what’s called an “asynchronous” group, where you essentially create a forum where participants can post and respond to each others’ posts over time.
Once you’ve chosen the type of online focus group you want to run, you can get started. If it’s a real-time focus group, which is the most common type of online focus group, you’ll want to let the moderator/moderators do what they do best.
For most focus groups, the client will be as hands-off as possible, sometimes not even observing the focus group. It depends on what the focus group provider and moderator recommend.
If you’re running the focus group yourself, you’ll need to observe and record so that you can get as much actionable data as possible. Thankfully, this just means you’ll be recording using some type of software.
Hosting an In-Person Focus Group
In many ways, hosting an in-person focus group is the same as hosting an online focus group in that you’ll need to step back and let the moderator/moderators do their job, record the process, and observe if possible.
Recording means you’ll need video and audio equipment, so make sure it’s high quality so that you won’t miss a thing.
Otherwise, collect the data and make the most of it!
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