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Online Focus Groups

Online Focus Groups

Suppose a company in Germany wants to interview a customer group in London. What are they more likely to do to save time and cost? A. Fly all the way to London and interview the customer or B. Hold a virtual meeting. No brainer, right? The virtual meeting is an obvious choice. The Internet has completely transformed how companies interact and engage customers. This applies not only to customer service but also to market research and information collection. Let's explore one such application today: Online focus groups.

Online Focus Groups Definition

Online focus groups are a primary research method for collecting qualitative data. They take place online using tools like webcams and audio recorders. Companies use online focus groups to learn about customer behavior, collect feedback, or get new ideas for product development.

An online focus group is a focus group conducted via the Internet.

The two main benefits of online focus groups are cheap costs and flexibility. Companies can conduct focus groups using online software anytime, anywhere with no or relatively cheap costs.

Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Meet allows business to interview people in real-time with the ability to transcribe and record the discussion for later analysis.

An online focus group consists of a moderator and attendees. The moderator is responsible for asking questions, engaging, and observing the participants. The attendees can interact among themselves or answer questions directly from the moderator.

Types of Focus Groups

There are two main types of online focus groups: real-time online focus groups and bulletin board focus groups.

Online focus group type: Real-time

Real-time online focus groups take place in real-time with the help of a video-conferencing tool. Such focus groups can last between half to one hour and contain up to 10 participants. A moderator will moderate the group and will ask questions to collect qualitative data.

The real-time connection allows participants to interact and engage in a deep conversation. It is a highly effective approach for collecting quality data.

An example of where a real-time online focus group might apply is a company asking for people's feedback on its recent product launch.

Online focus group type: Bulletin-board

Bulletin board online focus groups also occur online, but not in real-time. Usually, online users will fill out a survey, or questionnaire, provide video feedback, or post data in an online community.

Bulletin board online focus groups can take place in intervals (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly).

This approach is most effective for idea creation. For example, a company opens a Discord channel for loyal customers and collects people's ideas, opinions, and recommendations from the platform to create a product that matches their needs.

Online Focus Groups Examples

An example of online focus groups is an international company collecting customers' opinions about a new marketing campaign. Rather than traveling to the other end of the world to meet a customer, it can hold a virtual meeting and meet participants across the globe. This method is more cost-efficient and convenient than the traditional focus group.

Another example is an eCommerce store that hosts an online conference with its suppliers. The video conferencing tools allow all the participants to meet and collaborate in real-time. There is no need to travel or set up an appointment that fits everyone's busy schedule.

Online Focus Groups Advantages and Disadvantages

Online groups are a perfect way to collect data when researching people's buying intent and motivation. However, along with the advantages, there are also disadvantages to this approach.

Online focus groups benefits

Let's first talk about the benefits of online focus groups:

Flexibility

Online focus groups are highly flexible. They can be set up anytime, anywhere for all kinds of contexts. For example, a company based in London can interview a customer in Germany without traveling to a physical location. This removes the time and location constraints, allowing the researcher to focus on the content of the interview.

Cost-effectiveness

Online focus groups are also relatively cheap. In many cases, they are even free. For example, companies can take advantage of video conferencing tools like Google Meet or Zoom to conduct free video calls within the time limit (around 40 - 60 minutes). Also, online focus groups remove locations from the equation. Companies can save money by not having to book a meeting venue.

Ability to transcribe the discussion

Many video conferencing tools come with recording and transcribing features. This relieves the researcher from the task of note-taking and allows them to focus solely on the discussion. Once the discussion is done, they can use the transcription to extract key information and use it for data analysis.

Online Focus Groups Best Practices

To make the most out of an online focus group, the moderator should:

  1. Prepare questions in advance — These questions should be open-ended to drive more comprehensive answers from the customers. Sometimes, questions can be replaced by a topic for discussion.

  2. Split a large group — People tend to drift off to other things when they are not given attention. To keep people engaged, the moderator can split a large online group into smaller ones. Group members can discuss first, then share their idea summary with the entire group.

  3. Use a reliable platform — Nothing affects the flow of the meeting more than a service breakdown. Thus, another focus group best practice is to choose a reliable service that can hold the expected number of employees.

Online Focus Groups' disadvantages

Here are the main disadvantages of online focus groups:

Difficulty in management

Managing an online group is hard, especially when the group size is large and consists of people from different time zones. Suppose you live in the GMT time zone, and some attendees are from the GMT+5 time zone. If the meeting lasts from 3 pm to 7 pm, some attendees may not be able to make it to the end since it's already midnight where they live. The attendees may also skip the online meeting altogether due to personal commitments.

Service breakdown

This is one of the most significant challenges when interviewing online groups. Technology is not always reliable. Sometimes a loss of connection or service breakdown can put the meeting to a halt. This can trigger annoyance among some attendees, who may not want to show up another time.

Distractions

The final limitation of virtual focus group meetings is distractions. The attendee can participate in a discussion in one tab and check emails in another. When the camera is not on, it's not easy to know what the attendees are doing, and the moderator may lose them halfway through the meeting without knowing. Online appointments can be largely ineffective without a good moderator.

Online Focus Groups vs Traditional Focus Groups

How do online focus groups differ from traditional focus groups? Let's find out in the short comparison table below:

Online focus groups

Traditional focus group

Location

Anywhere around the world

An exact location

Pros

  • Interview anyone anywhere

  • Low-cost

  • Ability to record and transcribe interviews

  • A lot of technology is available

  • Watch interviewees' body language

  • Some interviewees are more comfortable talking in person

Cons

  • Disrupted connection

  • Distraction

  • Difficult to manage a large group

  • Traveling

  • Time zone restriction

Table 1. Online vs Traditional focus group, StudySmarter Originals

Both online and traditional focus groups involve interacting with a group of participants. The only difference is that online focus groups occur online while traditional focus groups take place physically. Online focus groups are cheaper, faster, and more convenient than traditional focus groups. It allows people worldwide to meet and interact in real time.

However, online focus groups may limit body language reading and a deeper connection between the moderator and the participants. Also, it may not be suitable for the older age group who are unfamiliar with online communications tools. There is also the risk of service breakdown, which disrupts the discussion. Moreover, participants are prone to distractions when the focus group is large.

Overall, online focus groups should be used when the customers are tech-savvy and live in different parts of the world. When body language is required, or there are many older participants, companies should stick to the traditional focus group method.

Online Focus Groups - Key takeaways

  • An online focus group is a qualitative research method where researchers interview a group of customers via the Internet.
  • The main advantage of the online focus group is low cost and flexibility. The researcher can schedule meetings with anyone worldwide at any time of the day.
  • The limitations of this approach come from service breakdown, attendees' distraction, and difficulty in managing a large group.
  • Researchers should prepare a question list and use reliable software to conduct a successful online focus group meeting.
  • When researching non-tech-savvy groups, the traditional focus group method may be more suited than virtual interviews.

References

  1. Maggie Tillman, What is Zoom and how does it work? Plus tips and tricks, https://www.pocket-lint.com/apps/news/151426-what-is-zoom-and-how-does-it-work-plus-tips-and-tricks, 2022.
  2. Google Workspace, Video conferencing with Google Meet, https://workspace.google.com/intl/en/resources/video-conferencing/, 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions about Online Focus Groups

An online focus group is a focus group that takes place online, while traditional focus groups require the moderator to meet face-to-face with a group of participants. Online focus groups are cheaper and more convenient to execute than traditional focus groups. 

The major disadvantage of an online focus group comes from the risk of service breakdown and difficulty managing a large group online. 

Online focus groups are a legit qualitative method to collect data from customers. 

Conducting online focus groups comes with many advantages, such as: 

  • Flexibility in terms of time and location,
  • Low costs, 
  • Ability to transcribe data for analysis. 

The two types of online focus groups are: 


  1. Real-time online focus groups - take place in real-time using a webcam and audio recording tools. 
  2. Bulletin-board online focus groups - occur during a spaced period (weekly, monthly, yearly) where the participants are asked to fill out a questionnaire, survey, or provide video feedback. 

Final Online Focus Groups Quiz

Question

An online focus group is a ________ data collection method. 

Show answer

Answer

qualitative

Show question

Question

The main benefit of online focus group interviewing is _________ and flexibility

Show answer

Answer

cheap cost 

Show question

Question

Zoom and Google Meet are __________ used for online focus groups. 

Show answer

Answer

video conferencing tools

Show question

Question

Who is a moderator in an online focus group interview?

Show answer

Answer

A moderator is the person who asks questions prompts discussion and collects answers from the focus group or attendees. 

Show question

Question

Virtual meetings allow people to meet up anytime, anywhere. 


This is an example of what online focus groups benefit?

Show answer

Answer

Flexibility

Show question

Question

Online focus groups provide a quick and convenient way for marketers to learn more about their customers. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Managing an online focus group is always easy. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Online focus groups heavily rely on ___________.

Show answer

Answer

technology and software

Show question

Question

What poses the most threat to the success of a virtual meeting?

Show answer

Answer

Service breakdown

Show question

Question

Online focus group is suited to both tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy customer groups. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Opinions collected from online focus groups are more diverse than in traditional focus groups.  

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Online focus groups remove ________ barriers. 

Show answer

Answer

Geographical 

Show question

Question

What are the limitations of online focus groups?

Show answer

Answer

Unable to watch the full body language of the interviewees

Show question

Question

What is NOT a benefit of online focus groups?

Show answer

Answer

Flexibility 

Show question

Question

To successfully conduct an online focus group interview, the moderator needs to ________.

Show answer

Answer

  • prepare in advance
  • split a big group into smaller ones
  • use reliable software

Show question

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