While lockdown restrictions have started to ease in some countries, online focus groups remain the most viable option for companies that wish to carry out focus group market research. This article sets out FieldworkHub’s approach to online focus groups and the key points to consider when choosing a platform.

What is an online focus group and why conduct one?

We have previously touched on what a focus group is (read more here), but to briefly summarise, an online focus group is a qualitative method of data collection which allows a researcher to conduct a discussion involving a number of respondents remotely.

COVID-19 has necessitated a shift from in-person to online focus groups. As well as being compliant with restrictions on gatherings, online focus groups come with their own advantages, such as improved geographical reach and cost effectiveness (read more here). There are numerous technical solutions for online focus groups available in the market, each with its own set of features and benefits. It’s important to consider your project needs before choosing which platform or solution works best for you.

What platforms is FieldworkHub using, and why?

Researchers can choose from platforms that are specifically designed for market research such as FocusVision InterVu, or general-purpose web conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Finding the right platform and tools is key to the success of any online focus group. Important points to consider are:

Video conferencing

The platform you choose should allow for face-to-face interaction with the participants, video recording and streaming. Research-oriented platforms and some general-purpose platforms also allow telephone access to the session, which can serve as a useful backup in case a participant experiences internet connectivity problems.

Most video conferencing platforms also offer ways to record and store an online focus group discussion. For example, InterVu automatically records sessions as soon as all participants are marked as present. General-purpose web conferencing platforms typically offer settings to record and store sessions in the Cloud (minimising the use of local storage space). However, the recording feature may not be available on all pricing plans so check that your plan includes it.

Multiple streams

If you need simultaneous translation for your focus group, then you’ll need two audio streams. You may also need a virtual backroom for clients. Most research-oriented  platforms offer these features. Zoom also offers the option of a second audio channel on some pricing plans, but this is not currently available on Google Meet or Microsoft Teams so if you are using one of these platforms you may need to set up a separate conference call for simultaneous translation using a platform such as WhatsApp. WhatsApp is also a good option for backroom chat if your platform does not have this functionality built in.

Security and data protection

Research-oriented platforms have the added advantage of ensuring GDPR compliance is maintained. Aside from being able to password protect an online focus group, these platforms also tend to encrypt data in transit by default. Other platforms might not offer encryptions of calls, but may encrypt screen sharing both in transit and at rest from the time the moderator or participant starts screen sharing until they turn it off. 

Interaction

Both research-oriented  and general-purpose web conferencing platforms provide interactive features such as ‘Raise Hand’ which helps to keep order and ensure all participants get a say, ‘Reactions’ which allow quick nonverbal feedback visible to everyone and ‘Polling’ which is great for asking the group questions and capturing the responses in real time.

Conclusion

While online focus groups are a great substitute for in-person focus groups, it’s worth pointing out there are a few drawbacks to consider. These include:

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 - looking to start a focus group get in touch.

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