Understanding Online Focus Groups

Synchronous online focus groups

Synchronous online focus groups are a qualitative research tool to gather information from individuals via the Internet. Qualitative research allows for in-depth exploration into people’s feelings and beliefs. However unlike traditional focus groups, online groups offer the advantage of bringing participants together regardless of their geographic location. They are desirable when dealing with participants who are difficult to recruit and can be conducted directly from a participant’s office or home computer.

The online process

Synchronous online focus groups use a secure website to conduct a focused discussion. Typically eight people are invited to participate in the discussion that is led by a moderator. Somewhat like a chat-room setting, questions are presented to the group and participants are encouraged to respond to the moderator as well as each other. Online focus group facilities are set up to enable viewing of visual stimuli (e.g., storyboards, websites, and commercials).

Typically synchronous online focus groups last 90 minutes in length. Clients can view the entire discussion from any location. Once logged in they can communicate with each other and send private notes to the moderator. One advantage of an online focus group is that a transcript of the discussion is created automatically and can be downloaded immediately upon completion of the discussion. The moderator can then hold an online debriefing session with the clients to review significant findings from the group discussion.

When is a synchronous online focus group right for me?

Synchronous online focus groups should be considered where the target market is experienced using the Internet or where some anonymity is desired for participants.  This encourages even shy participants to be open and share their honest opinions, including on sensitive topics or products. This methodology should be considered only when the research being conducted will not be seriously compromised because participants’ reactions and non-verbal cues cannot be seen.