6 Tips to Ensure Your Focus Group Participants Actually Show Up

Perhaps the biggest fear in qualitative recruitment is hosting a focus yet having none of the participants show up. This great fear can often be realized more often in Upstate New York where the focus group killer is only a lake effect snowstorm away. It's what keeps moderators from sleeping the night before the focus groups. It's essentially why market research firms recruit 16 to seat 12, recruit 12 to seat 8, and recruit 8 to seat 4.

No matter how much preparation goes into recruiting participants, there will undoubtedly be some that are no-shows. Excuses typically include dogs eating car keys, a sudden case of swine flu, or both. Weeks of preparation leads into an evening of focus groups. When you think you have 14 participants showing up and only 3 shows, it can be devastating for a moderator, client, and morale.

Here are 6 tips to ensure your participation rates remain high for focus groups. These tips will not guarantee a 100% show rate, but they will cumulatively help attendance.

6 Tips to Ensure Your Focus Group Participants Actually Show Up

Phone Re-screens

A popular form of recruitment these days is through online surveys. Online surveys serve as both a quick and cost-effective way to reach thousands of potential participants with one click of "send." Comparing this to the cost of placing individual phone calls to the same thousands of customers and it becomes easy to see which methodology clients prefer. However, one knock of online surveys is they are somewhat impersonal.

This can be solved by placing follow-up phone calls to re-screen and confirm participants. Rather than searching for participants who qualify for focus groups, the online survey takes care of this for you and passes you a list of people who are interested. Phone calls directed to this audience are often easy conversions because they are aware of your company and your reason for calling because they essentially asked to participate. A personal reach out from a caller adds a nice touch.

Confirmation Letters

Although emails can be more cost-effective, Drive Research still believes in traditional mail for these confirmation letters. Emails may or may not be opened or saved. Whereas a printed letter signed by the moderator serves as a constant reminder on a kitchen countertop or fridge for the participant. "Don't forget about your focus group next Thursday at 7:00 PM." Some would argue, traditional mail still stands out and makes an impact in the digital world.


Included in the confirmation letter is a list of FAQs. Participants are often skeptical of focus groups. What should I expect? What will they try to sell me? Will zombies come out from behind the curtain while I'm talking about Chevrolet cars? Including some FAQs on topics, parking, locations, arrival, etc. can put the participant at ease and avoid trepidation. It removes any doubt that the focus group is official, credible, organized, and for research purposes only.


It's a digital age of smartphones and Google maps but good old fashioned directions can still come in handy. Depending on the audience for your focus group, you may want to include these in your confirmation letter packet. Particularly if you are targeting or you have some older generations attending your focus group sessions. Again, trepidation and nervousness about where to go and how to get there should never prevent someone from dropping out or deciding not to attend last minute.

If this resembles your focus group participants looking for your facility before their session begins, you might have to give them some help and send them a few pointers beforehand. It's a focus group, not the plot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Reminder Calls

Drive Research typically likes to place quick reminder calls about 24 to 48 hours before the focus groups. About half of the time during these confirmation calls you'll end up leaving a voicemail. This is especially important if some time has passed since they were recruited or they received their confirmation letter. Never let more than a few days to a week pass without touching base. If they change their mind or drop out, it's better to know earlier so you can find a replacement.

Reminder Texts

Confirming attendance with focus groups needs to walk a fine line between pestering and cautiously nudging. One of the best factors impacting attendance is simple reminder texts the day of the focus group. These serve as a minimally invasive final reminder before the big show. Using a text app like Google Voice makes this an easy and virtually automated process for you.

Drive Research is a market research firm in Syracuse, NY. Our firm offers a variety of market research services for our partners and clients. Questions about focus groups in Syracuse? Contact us at 315.303.2040 or email us at [email protected].

Qualitative Recruiting