Online Focus Groups: Bulletin Boards or Real Time
Online focus groups provide a couple of unique twists on the original qualitative approach. In a relaxed, anonymous, online environment, focus group participants generally feel at ease. Compared with traditional focus groups, participants are freer to discuss more sensitive topics and offer candid opinions. Participating from their own homes or offices, respondents are not intimidated by the presence of a video recorder or a one-way mirror (found in traditional settings) nor are they influenced by peer pressure or group dominance.
Without the travel requirement necessary of traditional focus groups, we are able to more easily recruit respondents, including specialized and high-level individuals who would otherwise seldom volunteer. We are also able to conduct multi-city or even worldwide focus groups, in the same day, while you observe and never leave your office. There is never a travel expense for you or the participants.
Online focus groups offer a qualitative research experience that is easier on you and the participants. Furthermore, with Bulletin Board Focus Groups, we can dig for much deeper insights than with a traditional focus group.
Bulletin Board Focus Group (BBFG)
A BBFG is a 2-3 day thread-based discussion where 15-20 participants log in each day to answer questions and interact with other participants. The conversation is propelled by a moderator, who designed the discussion guide and asks probing questions over the course of each day. BBFGs are often used as an exploratory tool before launching a broader quantitative study.
BBFGs are unique in their ability to gather deeper qualitative responses from participants.
- Because this is a thread-based discussion, participants see a question, answer it, and only then are they able to see answers from other participants. This often leads to engaging conversations among participants as they share their experiences, opinions and reactions.
- The moderator has full control of the discussion. This enables the moderator to prevent any one participant from dominating the discussion.
- Because BBFGs take place over 2-3 days, we have a level of flexibility in our discussion to revise the stimulus presented, or change the direction of the conversation, based on what the participants are telling us.
- Participants are able to work their responses into their day, according to their schedule. This is particularly critical when talking with professionals and millennials.
- Because of the anonymity inherent to this approach, BBFGs are ideal tools for discussions of sensitive topics. This encourages participants to tell us things which they might not share in a face-to-face discussion.
- For observers, this approach allows you to participate from anywhere in the world, including the comfort of your own home, eliminating costly travel expenses (and treatment for addiction to M&Ms).
Weakness & limitations of BBFGs
- We can’t replace the experience of observing the visceral, real-time, emotional reaction of a participant to stimulus.
- While we make every effort to protect your content through confidentiality agreements with the participants, we encourage you to never put anything into a BBFG that would damage your strategy, if made public. Ultimately, this is the internet and a simple screen shot is just a click away.
Real-Time Focus Group (RTFG)
Real-time Focus Groups come in a variety of formats. Originally, RTFGs were “chat-based.” These interactions lasted anywhere from 60-90 minutes and were often chaotic, given the awkward lag time between typing responses and receiving feedback. As the technology has evolved, RTFGs are often webcam based and use a variety of tools within the engagement: chat, quick polls, and screen-sharing. RTFGs are a live, moderated online discussion, usually among 6-8 participants, lasting 90 minutes or less.
- To a limited extent, RTFGs can give you the immediate and visceral reactions of a respondent to a stimuli, and allow for in-depth probing of factors that prompted the reaction. This is especially true with webcam based RTFGs.
- If a dominant respondent emerges, the technology allows for the moderator to isolate that respondent quickly & easily from other participants.
Weakness & limitations of BBFGs
- While we make every effort to protect your content through confidentiality agreements with the participants, we encourage you to never put anything into a RTFG that would damage your strategy, if made public. Ultimately, this is the internet and a simple screen shot is just a click away.
- Participant experience is dependent on their internet bandwidth at the time, especially as it relates to webcam groups.
- In addition to that, please keep in mind that webcam-based groups are only representative of people with webcams and the technological aptitude to use them.