What is an Online Focus Group? | Market Research Buffalo

With all of the talk about mobile market research, m-commerce, MROCs, bulletin boards, and online surveys, one would think focus groups are dead. A more accurate statement would be focus groups are evolving. The traditional focus group fans are finding ways to utilize online methodologies and forums to collect the same valuable anecdotes and feedback without having to shell out the cash for an onsite facility, food and beverages, expensive moderators, and participant rewards. As seen ove the past 5 years with online focus groups, perhaps there's a better way.

Online discussion groups or online focus groups can the same qualitative in-depth feedback as a traditional focus group at a fraction of the cost. Read more about the process and benefits below.

What is an Online Focus Group? | Market Research Buffalo

What is an online focus group?

Online focus groups or online discussion groups are very similar to moderated email groups (MEGs). Participants are screened and qualified to participate in a group discussion. However, instead of bringing these focus group participants to a facility to talk in-person, the focus group discussion is held online through a forum, chat room, or email string.

Because there are no face-to-face discussions or visual cues, anonymity can be ensured. Drive Research finds these online focus groups work well for busy B2B professionals or C-level decision-makers who may not be able to put aside 2 to 3 hours of time to travel to a focus group to talk face-to-face.

How does the online focus group process work?

The steps towards completing an online focus group are very similar to the exclusive and task-oriented process Drive Research uses for traditional focus groups. There are several differences in conducting and moderating the session and the platform used to collect feedback. But before we get to that, a good online focus group starts with a kickoff and a roadmap.

Kickoff Roadmap

We use a roadmap for all of our kickoff meetings. This roadmap works as an agenda to keep everyone on-task and moves from objectives to process to next steps. The roadmap will address questions like who the client wants to recruit for the online focus groups, when the groups are expected to be held, and the topic areas covered in the group. This roadmap ensures all parties are on the same page to deliver and meet expectations.

Driver's Manual Workplan

Our team loves our driver's manuals. This is a rolling document exchanged throughout the online focus group project. It labels specific tasks, deliverable dates, and responsible parties. This is all part of the Drive Research market research experience. We have a process that works, why recreate the wheel?


This the part of the process which focuses on recruitment of participants. Are you looking for B2B participants or B2C participants? Do you want specific ages? Genders? Household incomes? Do you want to recruit participants for the online focus groups who share specific behaviors or purchasing patterns? This document ensures we recruit the right people for the online focus group. Participants are then recruited and run through the screener to qualify. If they do, they are provided more information on how to access the online focus group, when to attend, and rewards involved with their participation.

Moderator's Guide

The moderator's guide is used to structure the online focus group discussion. It's a list of questions and topics that guide the flow for the focus group. The great news about online focus groups that is not always true with traditional focus groups is it is much easier to adjust on the fly. Didn't expect a ton of feedback on topic ABC? Online focus groups offer a lot of flexibility to change the flow and follow-up on discussion through easier segues than in-person in front of 12 people.

Online Focus Groups

These focus groups can be held over a very specific timeframe (1 or 2 hours) or during several time periods over the course of 2 to 3 days or a week. Extending the timeframe beyond a specific window skews the research more towards a MEG or bulletin board however. A typical online focus group is meant to be completed with a specific group during a specific window of time and duration.

Participants sign-into a chat room like forum and can comment on topics. The moderator throws out questions and follow-up items based on the feedback received. Participants communicate with the moderator and each other anonymously. Multiple client viewers can view or read questions and comments to follow along with the group discussion and chat privately with the moderator. Again, the flexibility here is much greater than client viewers having to wait for the moderator to come back and pop his or her head into the client viewing room.

What are some of the core benefits of online focus groups?

There are many, but I'll touch on a few in this post. Many of them revolve around cost savings for the client and the market research company.

Lower Participants Payouts

Participants are rewarded for their time, much like a traditional focus group. However, the payout is usually 25% to 50% less than the payout for having the participant travel in-person to a focus group facility to sit for two hours.

Lower Overhead Costs

Online focus groups remove facility overhead, video recordings, audio recordings, and even transcripts. Since the discussion is often logged through the software you use, you do not have to pay for a company or person to transcribe the sessions.

Savings on Travel and Food

Less travel for the client to attend the groups in-person results in lower expenses. No expensive plane tickets or hotel rooms. No expensive food bills for both the client or participants as well.

Global Appeal

These types of focus groups work very well across borders. Since the chat is held online, the moderator and client is not limited by language barriers. Since participants type out responses they can often formulate thoughts better in writing as they respond. Picking a convenient time across markets allows for multiple B2B or B2C respondents to participate across several countries. This option is great for companies with global customers.

Quick Turnarounds

No more waiting 24 to 48 hours for DVDs or flash drives. Feedback and results are instantaneous and can begin right after the online focus groups end. As participants become more and more comfortable with online methodologies, recruiting can be completed much quicker as well.

Need Market Research Help in Buffalo?

Drive Research is a market research firm serving Buffalo New York. Our Upstate New York markets include Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany. We conduct both traditional and online focus groups in all regions of Upstate NY and beyond.

Interested in an online focus group with Drive Research? Or do you have any questions about where to get started? Contact us at [email protected] or by calling 315-303-2040.

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