When you hear someone say the term “online focus group,” they could be referring to 1 of 3 types of online focus groups. In this post we’ll give you an overview of the 3 types of online focus groups, and discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach…
“Chat-style” online focus groups
- Description – In these groups, participants are invited to join a text-based chat room at a pre-defined day/time to participate in a moderated group discussion with anywhere from 10-15 people (sometimes more, sometimes less). The group typically lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
- Advantages – The advantage of this format is that it happens relatively quickly and can feel like a vibrant online discussion, particularly if the moderator does an effective job of getting the participants to chat amongst each other. In addition, the text format provides a level of anonymity that encourages some people to open up more.
- Disadvantages – The primary disadvantage of the “chat-style” online focus group is that you lose the non-verbal reactions in text-based communications. It’s also difficult for some participants to keep up with the pace of a fast-moving chat-style focus group. As a result, you tend to get short replies that lack the depth of discussion available through other methods.
“Bulletin board” style online focus groups
- Description – In this type of online focus group, a group of 20-30 participants (sometimes more, sometimes less) are invited to take part in a moderated discussion that takes place over a few days. Each day they stop in and answer moderator-led questions, while interacting with other participants.
- Advantages – The advantage of this format is that participants have the time to provide in-depth replies to the moderator’s questions. It’s also much easier for people to participate because the group does not occur in real-time. Bulletin boards also have the advantage of relative anonymity for participants, which encourages more open, honest dialogue.
- Disadvantages – Bulletin boards share the same disadvantage of chat-style groups in that they are text-based, and therefore lose the non-verbal reactions and immediacy that video has. Certain online focus group platforms like FocusGroupIt now offer the capabilities to record video replies in addition to text responses, so it is possible to get the “best of both worlds.”
Webcam online focus groups
- Description – This is what SpeedyGroups specializes in. This type of online focus group most closely resembles the “traditional” in-person focus group that marketers have been using for over 50 years. In this format, a selected group of 6-8 participants is invited to join a moderated discussion that lasts for around 90 minutes. Each participant joins the discussion using the webcam on their computer or mobile device.
- Advantages – The primary advantage of webcam online focus groups is that you can capture the non-verbal reactions that marketers and researchers are accustomed to from in-person focus groups. In addition, since people are participating from the comfort of their home or office they feel much more comfortable and willing to open up, versus the “artificial” environment of a traditional in-person focus group.
- Disadvantages – The primary disadvantage of webcam online focus groups is that your target audience must have a webcam-enabled device to participate. Almost all consumer electronics today (e.g., laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones) come installed with a webcam, so with each passing year this is less and less of an issue. However, if your audience is less tech savvy you may be stuck with in-person focus groups in the short-term.
Of course, all 3 types of online focus groups share a number of benefits over “traditional” in-person focus groups, including:
- Lower cost – Online focus groups are less expensive than in-person focus groups due to the elimination of the travel costs, facility rental costs, hosts, food, video, etc. The good news is that lower cost doesn’t mean lower quality. Online focus groups can reveal deeper insights than in-person groups in many situations…
- No travel required – These days few people have the time or bandwidth to travel out of the office for a week to observe in-person focus groups. Online focus groups (regardless of the type) can be observed from the comfort of your desk, leading to higher productivity for you and your team.
- Geographic reach – The online format lets you recruit people from anywhere around the world to participate, rather than being relegated to recruiting from facility databases in a handful of cities.
- Speed (sometimes) – In some cases, online focus groups can be run faster than in-person focus groups. However, this depends a lot on the vendor you are working with. This is where SpeedyGroups is different, as we have developed a process that can deliver online focus groups end-to-end in just 5 business days (that’s 5x faster than in-person groups, and significantly faster than other online focus group providers).
Hopefully this post provided you with a good overview of the 3 types of online focus groups. In the future we may see new types of groups (particularly when virtual reality technology hits the mainstream in 5-10 years), but for now these are by far the most popular and widely used types of online focus groups available to marketers and researchers today.