So, what are the key advantages of online focus groups?
The spread of respondents that can be obtained by an online discussion is an enormous advantage, as it allows us to set up discussions between decision-makers across different timescales. Respondents can log in to the conversation at any time of the day or night without having to travel to a viewing centre. This means that decision-makers from all over the country – or even all over the world – can take part in the same discussion.
The flexible timescale used by an online focus group enables the researcher to include senior and busy professionals in a focus group for the first time. Senior decision-makers can fit the discussion into their busy schedules without being tied to a particular meeting time or spending time travelling to a viewing centre.
Online focus groups generate an enormous amount of information. In a typical face-to-face focus group, 8 or 9 respondents will converse over an hour and a half. This means that each has contributed for an average of about 10 minutes. With an online focus group however, respondents typically spend at least an hour contributing to the discussion over 2 days, which means a much greater volume of valuable information for the researcher.
The information gained from online focus groups is often as in-depth, if not more in-depth, than in face-to-face groups. Answers to questions can be probed by the moderator for extra detail or clarification, and respondents have all the time they need to reflect on their answers.
Finally online focus groups provide extremely reliable data, as the anonymity of a ‘virtual’ environment increases respondents’ willingness to air their most honest views. Respondents who may be shy or quiet in a face-to-face focus group have the time to reflect and the privacy to give a true account. Sometimes it is surprising just how candid respondents can be!
This article was written by Matthew Harrison