Social distancing won’t stop research. Five reasons to consider online focus groups

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Many countries are starting to emerge from lockdown but restrictions on social contact with strangers are expected to stay in place for months. For companies that want to carry out focus group market research, this means that online methodologies are the only viable option for now. In the past, many clients have considered online focus groups as a poor substitute for face-to-face groups. This article sets out the reasons why online groups are worth another look.

Five reasons to conduct an online focus group

1. Cost-effectiveness

Online focus groups can offer financial savings compared to face-to-face groups when all the costs are taken into account. Although a fully-featured online focus group platform with technical support may cost more per hour than a viewing facility, many clients are managing to conduct online groups with free and low-cost platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts (FieldworkHub is happy to provide free and impartial advice on the various options available). Other costs are certainly lower since there are no travel expenses for clients, moderators or participants and everyone provides their own refreshments!

2. Turnaround time

It’s often possible to arrange an online focus group with less notice that a face-to-face group since clients, moderators and respondents don’t have to take as much time out of their schedule to attend an online group, or make travel arrangements. In the past, we have managed to schedule consumer online focus groups in less than a week, although B2B, technology and healthcare audiences typically take a bit longer to recruit.

3. Improved geographical reach

Online focus groups can be used to break down geographical barriers by bringing respondents from all over the country, or potentially from several different countries, into the same discussion. This can help you obtain a wider range of insights than would be possible with face-to-face groups held in a single city.

4. Improved access to senior B2B profiles

Senior B2B profiles value their time and can be reluctant to spend it travelling to and from a central location to take part in a face-to-face group discussion. Online focus groups are more convenient for these profiles and they are more likely to agree to take part as a result.

5. More even spread of inputs

Quieter respondents can often be encouraged to speak up more in an online focus group where they have some perceived anonymity than when they are sitting in a room with others whom they perceive to be more extrovert or better informed.

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Having listed the key advantages of online focus groups, it’s worth pointing out there are a few drawbacks to consider. These include the possibility that the moderator will not be able to capture the participants’ non-verbal communications to the same extent, the fact that it is harder to keep control over confidential stimulus material online (if you have participants in a room you can ask them to hand in their phones before entering, but if you show them confidential material on their screens at home, you can’t prevent them saving a screenshot), and online participation can be a bit daunting for older and less tech-savvy participants.

That said, for many projects, an online focus group can be just as good as a face-to-face group, or even better. During this unusual period, FieldworkHub continues to support its qualitative research clients by running online focus groups. If you need help with arranging an online session or have any questions, please get in touch! We would be happy to help.