8 Virtual Focus Group Best Practices

woman joining a virtual focus group on her laptop

With the rise of video conferencing tools, traditional, in-person focus groups have evolved into a methodology that can be completed remotely.

As a result, conducting online focus groups has become increasingly popular among the market research community. 

If you are still new to this type of market research, it can be helpful to learn a few virtual focus group best practices to assure your project goes off without a hitch. 

In this blog post, our market research company shares our insider tips and tricks we’ve used throughout the years.

Best Practice #1: Use Common Video Conferencing Tools

According to Owl Labs, around 62% of employees aged 22 to 65 say they work remotely at least occasionally.

That is in no doubt a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic causing many organizations to adjust their working from home policies. 

As a result, many people have become more familiar with video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts. 

For instance, Zoom alone has 300 million daily meeting participants – a 2900% increase since December 31, 2019. 

When facilitating virtual focus groups, participants will have an easier learning curve if the discussion is held on a remote conferencing tool they know how to use.

Additionally, these platforms allow researchers to record the session, download a transcript, and other value-adds similar to in-person focus groups.  

💡 The Key Takeaway: While there are platforms designed for virtual focus groups, your participants are likely more comfortable using video conferencing tools such as Zoom. A positive participant experience is key in gathering high-quality feedback.

Best Practice #2: Allow Cell Phone Participants

There are many devices participants can use to participate in online focus groups. Think desktops, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and more. 

Allowing participants to join the market research on the device they feel most comfortable using is an effective virtual focus group best practice.

Perhaps a large portion of your target audience doesn’t have access to a device other than a mobile phone?

You can shoot yourself in the foot by limiting participation to those who only have a laptop.

It is okay to share some guidance for mobile participants such as ensuring they have a strong connection and using headphones to prevent unwelcome noises. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Cell phones are easily accessible to most consumers. Do not turn down a highly qualified participant just because they can’t participate in the remote discussion via desktop.

Best Practice #3: Remind, Remind, Remind

Creating calendar invitations is not just for B2B relationships. In fact, sending calendar invitations is a huge part of our process in recruiting participants for qualitative research.

Because most email platforms sync with users’ calendars, we can automatically remind them when the session is about to start. 

In addition to calendar invites, our online focus group company also recommends making reminder phone calls the day before the study and sending reminder texts the morning of the study.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Creating a calendar event for the remote focus group indicates how important the session is. It also serves as a top-of-mind reminder, notifying participants it is time to join the discussion.

Best Practice #4: Reinforce the Need for Private Spaces 

A strong benefit of in-person focus groups is that a moderator has access to a captive audience.

Participants sit in a focus group facility that is intentionally designed to be distraction-free.

However, when conducting focus groups virtually, participants can become distracted by their phones, people around them, outside noises, and more. 

Therefore, when finding participants for remote focus groups, it’s important to ask that they find a quiet, private space during the duration of the discussion.

Examples of private spaces best for virtual focus groups include:

  • Bedroom
  • Private office
  • Home basements
  • Walk-in closets 

Wherever participants can shut the door and escape from any distractions is best.

💡 The Key Takeaway: During re-screening phone calls when recruiting participants, ask if they can find a private space for the focus group. If they do not have access to this type of space, it might be best to put them on standby.

Best Practice #5: Budget Time for Margin of Error

Although these virtual focus group best practices can help eliminate most challenges, it’s almost impossible to predict any technical difficulties. 

For this reason, Drive Research always asks participants to log in 5 to 10 minutes before the group study. 

Adding this window allows participants and moderators to fix any unexpected technical issues such as software updates or a poor wi-fi connection.

Doing so means you can start the remote group discussion without cutting into the allotted time.

💡 The Key Takeaway: On average, online focus groups last anywhere from 75 to 90-minutes. Make sure to tack on 10 to 15-minutes to account for any technical difficulties when participants are logging in.

Best Practice #6: Personalize the Experience

When conducting a focus group in-person, it’s easy for the focus group moderator to point to a participant to ask for their feedback.

But, this luxury becomes non-existent for remote methodologies.

Therefore, our virtual focus group company recommends calling participants by name to easily guide the group discussion. 

  • “Chris, what do you think about the design of the logo?”
  • “Tim, do you agree with Tim’s comment?”
  • Ashley, can you expand on your feedback when you said the logo was too boring?”

Using participants’ names not only personalizes the experience but also helps to keep the discussion moving forward with no awkward pauses or people talking out of turn. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: When facilitating virtual focus groups, it’s important to work with a moderator who can build rapport with participants quickly. For more insight, read our blog post 4 Tips for Focus Group Moderator Beginners.

Best Practice #7: The Fewer Participants, the Better

A great virtual focus group best practice to keep in mind is limiting the number of participants.

While in-person focus groups often contain 8 to 12 participants, that number becomes smaller when conducting focus groups online. 

Drive Research recommends recruiting 4 to 6 participants to allow for a high engagement from each participant. 

Anything more and people start to talk over one another, making it difficult to hear feedback from everyone.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Hosting too many online focus group participants can become extremely chaotic. Plan to recruit 4 to 6 participants per discussion, even if it means hosting more groups than originally planned.

Best Practice #8: Send Rewards ASAP

Last, but not least: pay your rewards immediately. 

This best practice applies to all market research studies, not just virtual focus groups. 

For the sake of remote market research methodologies, our focus group company recommends using eGift cards. Great options include Visa and Amazon gift cards. 

In fact, according to our studies, a $100 Amazon gift card was the most popular market research incentive according to 80% of respondents.

Offering a popular reward can help make recruitment a breeze – but paying participants immediately will help them return for more studies.

💡 The Key Takeaway: When hosting traditional focus groups, participants are paid on-site before leaving a facility. Account for this same timeframe by sending rewards electronically as soon as the video focus groups wrap up.

Contact Our Virtual Focus Group Company

Drive Research is a full-service market research company specializing in traditional in-person and online focus groups. Our team can help recruit, moderate, and report on key takeaways from the virtual focus group discussion. 

To learn more about our services, contact Drive Research today!

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily carroll about the author

Emily Carroll

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Manager. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.

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