Research Writing

What are focus groups in research/Advantages/disadvantages

The focus groups have become very popular with organizations that want to conduct market research, thanks to the great results that can be obtained from this segment small number of people.

The information obtained when using a smaller number of participants in the focus groups is more robust and allows exploring the unconscious or often unexpressed preferences of consumers.

Participants in focus groups have also become more diverse to reflect a globalized and interconnected audience. This requires greater awareness on the part of the participants, which makes them feel welcome to share their true opinions during the research process.

What are focus groups?

Focus groups or groups focus is a research technique used to collect data through the group interaction. 

The group is made up of a small number of people carefully selected based on a set of predetermined criteria, such as location, age, socioeconomic status, race, etc., to discuss a certain topic. 

In market research, focus groups are used to identify and explore how the target audience thinks and behaves, and to obtain more information on the why, what and how. 

There are different types of focus groups , which if conducted efficiently, are an excellent resource for companies. The quality of the results depends on the discussion and the ability to keep the participants focused on the task. Exploring their feelings, perceptions, and decisions about the research topic is easier if they are in a comfortable environment to interact openly.

The research results from the focus groups are strong. When focus group participants are genuinely committed to the study and the facilitator is skilled enough, the result can be clarity on the main issues. 

Hard data is important in business, but it doesn’t always provide the complete picture. Instead, focus groups can help companies understand the numbers and better understand their consumers.

Advantages and disadvantages of focus groups

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups for an investigation.

Advantage

  • They are an alternative to obtain consumer information without using tools, which only produce quantitative data.
  • The focus groups use qualitative data collection methods .
  • Participants can interact, influence, and be influenced, providing practical insight into customer knowledge of brands, products, or services.
  • They have a clear advantage over other types of market research because they are flexible by design.
  • Researchers can listen to a person’s tone and observe their body language to better understand how they feel about a particular topic.

Disadvantages

  • Unlike individual interviews, focus groups are not as efficient at covering maximum depth on a particular topic.
  • There is a possibility that members may not express their honest and personal opinions on the subject in question.
  • People can limit their participation, especially when their thoughts conflict with the views of another participant.
  • Compared to other methods such as online surveys , focus groups are much more expensive to run.
  • Moderators have a great impact on the outcome, they can guide focus group participants to come to certain assumptions or conclusions about an idea or product and lead the process to inaccurate results. 

Guide to leading a focus group

If your purpose is to run a focus group for data collection for your next investigation, here are the steps to effectively focus group .

  1. Define the objective of your research: Establish the topic that you want to analyze in depth. If you select more than one, keep in mind that you will not be able to cover it thoroughly. This is why many companies must conduct multiple rounds of focus groups on different topics.
  2. Select the questions for the discussion process: Create a list of discussion questions and suggestions that will help you collect the data you need. Remember to ask open-ended questions that encourage participants to answer more than “yes and no.”
  3. Establish a moderator: The group discussion should be facilitated by one person, while another member of the team should be in charge of taking notes. The facilitator’s job is to guide the discussion and encourage new ideas in the participants. This task may fail if you also need to stop to write down important ideas and reactions from the participants.
  4. Recruit participants: One of the most challenging parts of running focus groups is getting people to introduce themselves. Some ways to achieve this is by inviting existing customers, posting it on social media, and offering incentives.
  5. Obtain the consent of the participants : Before starting the process, the participants must sign a consent form where you reiterate the objective of the research and the guidelines for their participation.
  6. The research process begins: Try to start by encouraging the participation of people, making them introduce themselves. Then run your questions. If the course of the investigation changes slightly, pick it up again. 

What are online focus groups?

Unlike traditional focus groups, an online focus group is carried out over the Internet with the help of software. 

Online focus groups are one of the newer online research methods, mainly used for conducting business research, consumer research, and other studies that require qualitative research online. 

Online focus group research is now widely used by brands, organizations and researchers alike who cannot conduct offline focus groups or who want to better handle qualitative insights. 

To run an online focus group efficiently, you can make use of online communities to help you manage your qualitative research. 

Types of online focus groups

Due to the nature of quality-oriented research, focus groups are highly interactive. Even when external factors are detrimental to the study, an investigation can be carried out without pause. 

There are two types of online focus groups, which are:

Synchronous or real-time online focus groups

As the name suggests, synchronous online focus groups occur in real time at a predefined time. These focus groups last between 30 and 90 minutes and consist of between 6 and 10 participants. 

A moderator leads these discussion groups , and qualitative data collection is for the duration of the online discussion only. 

These studies are carried out with online discussion group programs, instruments and platforms. Since it is a real-time process, participants can interact with each other and with the moderator in real time.  

Synchronous online focus groups are most commonly used during proof of concept and product or user research. 

An example of a synchronous or real-time focus group is that of a store looking to launch a new product on the shelves of a supermarket and looking for information about the product’s packaging.

Asynchronous online focus groups or online bulletin board

Asynchronous or bulletin board discussion groups are not real-time and help keep track of longitudinal studies using online customer communities. 

This variant works for weeks, days, and even years. Users can respond to surveys and questionnaires, offer video feedback, and even post photos, videos, and other resources online. Additionally, they can interact with other users and moderators and help with insightful discussions.

Asynchronous online focus groups are mostly used by brands for co-creation with select audiences and brand promoters. 

An example of this type of focus group is that of a clothing brand that launches a new clothing line and then receives long-term information on various aspects, such as prices, behavior of stores and purchases, comparison with the competition, product trends, etc. 

With the help of an online research community , they can tailor their products in the short, medium and long term. 

Questions for an online focus group

To conduct efficient online qualitative market research, asking the right set of questions is essential. The most common types of online focus group questions are:

Questions about hiring

To target the right respondents, asking the right demographic questions is vital. Using the appropriate online community management platform , previously profiled respondents can join a discussion. 

However, it is still best to ask the right questions to ensure you have the optimal respondents who add value to the study. 

An example of a recruiting question in an online focus group might be: “Please indicate your type of employment.” This question helps filter the optimal research respondents for a video discussion group.

Questions about engagement

The role of the community manager or online focus group manager is critical. 

Asking the right questions that elicit the insights that matter to the brand is an essential aspect of the online focus group. Following the plan and line of research, questioning is imperative to obtain optimal results. 

An example of an engagement question from an online discussion group is: “How recently have you used the product and please indicate your full experience while using the product?” 

Exploratory questions

Since online focus groups are virtual and not in person, it is crucial to compensate for the lack of visual clues with exploratory questions. 

In this scenario, the role of the moderator of the online discussion group is essential to ask the correct exploratory questions. Most are open, and it is the administrator’s responsibility to ensure that the correct items are presented to the audience. 

An example of an exploratory question for an online focus group is: “What do you like about our organization or brand?”

Concluding questions

If any research leads are lost during the online focus group, the administrator should ask the correct concluding questions to collect the answers that need to be answered. In most cases, these are open questions 

An example of an online focus group concluding question is: “Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience with this product?

Advantages of using online focus groups

Doing research using online focus groups has multiple advantages. Some of the most notable are:

  • Don’t stop and think : Online focus groups take place anytime, anywhere, and even if in-person discussion groups are on hold. Therefore, the qualitative perceptions of the most important members can be continuously monitored.
  • Offers another dimension to qualitative research : Online focus groups are easy to manage and have tangible benefits and therefore offer another dimension to qualitative research .
  • Efficient and with a high return on investment : A major advantage of online focus groups is that they are conducted without physical barriers. There are no time or place restrictions, and the costs are lower. Also, there are no geographic or demographic restrictions on the research.
  • Ease of analysis: With the help of online focus group tools, it is easier to transcribe comments, take notes, convert them into different languages, analyze feelings, view repetitions, etc. Data analysis also offers better reporting to all research stakeholders.
  • Paid online focus groups : Increasingly, brands are running paid online focus groups to recruit and gain insights from people they are likely to co-create with. Because of the lead it has, respondents are more likely to join in and offer opinions, thoughts, and added value to the research process.

Examples of online focus groups 

An example of online focus groups might be a clothing brand that conducted consumer research to test their feelings during new product launches. 

Running focus groups online with the help of software allows them to continue collecting information from their audience and consumers and to make sense of purchasing decisions.

Another example might be an organization that actively uses online qualitative research methods for in-depth monitoring, it is an airline that wants to make a better product. 

Using interactive online discussion groups with a close set of customers and brand promoters, the airline can collect data and apply sentiment analysis to understand purchasing decisions to improve its product and services.

Steps for conducting and managing online focus groups

Online focus groups are a wealth of knowledge for researchers, brands, and organizations. However, managing them requires some fundamental steps to be taken to get the most out of the participants. 

To create an interactive online discussion group, it is essential to follow some necessary steps:

Define the research objective : For the success of qualitative online research, it is essential to define the objective of the study so as not to deviate from the central theme of the study. This point helps to ensure that the qualitative data collected meets the basic needs of the researcher and the organization. 

Scheduling the study: Bringing people together for qualitative discussions online is more accessible as it mitigates the need for a physical location. Since the discussions are online, respondents can be brought together without geographic limits. It is essential to schedule the study in advance so that participants, observers, and other stakeholders report to participate in the research on time.

Design your research questions : It is important to use the basic research questions to get answers. These could be guiding questions, qualitative questions, co-creation questions, and more. This provides a structure for the online discussion and ensures that the insights sought in the study are captured.

Data collection and analysis : Because online focus groups are qualitative, data collection and analysis is very important to draw conclusions, trends, and sentiments from this study to meet the objectives and goals of your research.

Online Discussion Group Management Best Practices

Some of the best practices for managing focus groups online are:

Preparation : Since online focus groups are remote, plan and prepare well and in advance the tool you will use, the participants, the questions, the data analysis, to achieve your research objectives.

Sampling : Choosing the sample in focus groups and reaching the right people is essential. Use the appropriate sample selection techniques to have a high quality of data collection.

Size : Like traditional focus groups, the size of online focus groups should be between 7 and 10 participants for the best results and to be easy to manage. 

Moderation: As a moderator, decide the role you want to use in the research study to bring out the best in respondents and drive conversations in ways that offer the best insights.

Online Discussion Group Platform: The most critical aspect of online focus groups is the tool you use. Make sure you use the right research platform that serves your research objectives and offers the flexibility to analyze and report the data obtained. 

Managing focus groups online is made easier by using a platform like QuestionPro Communities . By using a comprehensive community management tool, you can run high-frequency surveys and manage longitudinal tracking. Plus, you’ll get easy access to quantitative and qualitative data to help you make informed decisions for your brand. 

QuestionPro is made up of multiple modules to better manage your qualitative and quantitative research online. With powerful modules like Idea Board , a discussion platform, panel management, and rewards and incentives management, it offers the best for your online focus groups.

Conducting focus groups online is undoubtedly the future of research. It’s easy to manage, extremely powerful, and offers a high return on investment. So get in touch, start putting it into practice, and harness the true potential of qualitative research online.

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