24 May 2016

How to conduct your own online focus group

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In the field of qualitative research, there are several techniques for collecting information more or less complex and costly. An online group meeting, or online focus group, brings together a small group of people (your customer target, for example) in a virtual room to talk about a subject / object and study their reactions / interactions at a reduced cost and in record time. The objectives are to gather insights from the group in order to quickly anticipate deadlocks, successes or improvements towards the object of the focus. More generally, the qualitative studies by focus group have diagnostic purposes (in-depth understanding of a situation), forecasts (collected insights provide a basis for decision making) and creative (to identify innovations for the object of the focus).

The wide range of applications of the focus groups in Marketing

What can we evaluate with a focus group study? User experience, software & website testing, working on image in a creative sense, communication campaigns pre-tests (YouTube videos, sponsored publications on Social Networks). Anything that can be digitized or with regard to digital, can be the object of a focus group online! Here is a list of applications that will give you an idea of the diversity of uses:

  • Advertising campaigns tests (pictures, posts, vidéos, …)
  • Website tests (ergonomics, design, functionality)
  • Online games and entertainment tests
  • Search for ideas and innovations
  • Secure brainstorming
  • Identification of lines of improvement (listen to ideas, dissatisfaction)
  • Research of obstacles and motivations (branding, marketing engagement)
  • Practice and attitude in response to a situation
  • Capture of feedback / validation of ideas
  • Marketing workshop activities (integration of online questionnaires – or “CAWI” – at the end of the workshop -> evaluating the quality of the workshop)
  • Mooc (integration of CAWI questionnaires -> evaluating the quality of the course)
  • SAV

The power of the platform and its functions will or will not make possible some of the above mentioned applications.

Who to include in the online focus groups?

Members of a community, prospects or clients, your Facebook fans, your followers on Instagram / Twitter or a group of people that interest you and assembled in a consumer panel. It is now relatively easy for marketers or even Community Managers to define a target population and mobilise it quickly to work on a given topic. Will you compensate participants? There is no obligation. Depending on the degree of appreciation that a consumer has on your brand, he will participate in the focus with pleasure and without the need for anything in return; if you are unable to recruit the target population, you can consider monetary compensation or offer a prize in compensation for the time spent. Focus groups can also be of interest to Human Resources departments, where the organisation of online and internal focus groups has advantages for the company: possibility of organising an anonymous virtual focus which gives the staff freedom to speak and can detect points of divergence or convergence in the organisation of a company.

How do you organise an online focus group?

The meeting uses a website that looks like an advanced Chat platform. A simple link to the online focus is sent to the participant by email, SMS, or instant messaging (Whats’app, Messenger, …). Users only need to connect via the link and choose a username. The moderator (or researcher) then welcomes each participant in the virtual waiting room and takes over the running of the online focus. He will have previously prepared the focus (presentation order of the different media, such as a photo, websites, videos), reflected on the context and on the direction of the discussions (drafting of a discussion guide and pre-entry of questions to ask). The moderator / researcher starts the procedure of collecting information by stimulating exchanges in a semi-directive manner. When he detects a specific discussion between several members, he may move them to a parallel room in order to develop the ideas.

The organisers of the focus will also be able to connect to the platform and observe all exchanges of ideas without being “seen” by the participants (as if they were behind a two-way mirror, as part of a “real” group meeting). To avoid bias, the sponsors have the opportunity to communicate with the moderator but without intervening in the debate.

An “online focus group” is made up of 6 to 12 people, that being a large enough number to facilitate a discussion capable of generating a dynamic interaction that produces quality verbatim. The minimum (6) and maximum (12) is supported by the fact that too few participants may not generate enough ideas and that too many creates a distraction and causes sub groups.

Advantage of online focus groups with GIDE

Technological flexibility at the service of the research! These online focus allow a 30% saving compared with focus groups where meeting at a real location can prove difficult for the participants. The time saved to meet the group on an online platform helps to focus the cost of the study on the added value and not on its organisation. Thanks to the development of platforms and easiness to recruit a target group, both companies and start-ups of modest size can afford to organize in-house focus groups with the assistance of Research Institutes. You can rent a fully SaaS platform and have autonomy straight away and you can also ask for advice. This is what we offer at Gide.

How long does a focus group last?

Focus groups are organised usually in sessions of about 1h 30′ each.

Example of a focus group : Facebook Post

Background : you would like your Facebook community to participate in a Focus Group. You even pay for an advert to be the most visible in the news. First determine what motivated those fans who willingly participated in the Focus. You can subsequently identify what types of images or messages to prioritise over other paid adverts, or be sure that your next questionnaire will engage a significant number of people.

Here the moderator guides the conversation towards the appeal of the Facebook post. He asks an open question. John and Jackie do not seem to agree on what is most appealing. He then, in this fictional example, moves John and Jackie to a dedicated room to take advantage of the exchanges of views without disrupting the conversation in the main room. Observers (representatives of the company conducting the study) will also be able to follow the discussion in the new room and lead off thoughts with the moderator on the interest or not of the exchange of views and why not, give rise to ideas. The moderator clicks on a name or avatar from the list to the left of the person that interests him. Within seconds, he can interact through several options.

Our platform provides several rooms where the moderator is able to move the participants from the common room to a private room where participants will meet subgroups.

So when interactions occur between a few people and the moderator believes there is a need, he can instantly create new chat rooms devoted to the subgroup that interacted. The host sends them to a new room to further refine the ideas and generate new insights. This confirms the usefulness of being able to open a variety of rooms dedicated to the work / discussions that will generate new ideas and will avoid “polluting” the general discussion. Ethnographic devices can complete the system (video conference, faces filmed by webcam).


The extraction of Verbatim is essential for analysing a focus group. It will classify, index and summarise a vast amount of information.


In the administration part of a focus group, you can, in particular, manage your participants, share the access links, add moderators or observers, enter questions beforehand, add a Cawi questionnaire, forward a website or, even a video to the participants.

Bias reduced

The behavior of participants in a group (see the work of Kurt Lewin) may be biased because of personalities “leader” who sometimes monopolise the communication to the detriment of “followers” and shy people. These biases are considerably reduced in chat rooms where everyone can express themselves freely and where speaking is easier with the help of a trained moderator.

Therefore, these Chat platforms can prove to be a good solution for marketers who are concerned about having a qualitative study tool and at a lesser cost.
If you would like to test or hire our Web platform for online focus, find out the price and the features, do not hesitate to contact us.

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