Improving your focus – Moving your focus groups online

Harnessing web-based technology to improve market research delivery is what we are all about at DigitalMR. And one area of research that we feel has benefited greatly from advances in technology is online qual: both for focus groups and IDI's (in-depth interviews). And while we are not advocating online qual will replace traditional methods any time soon, the advantages of using online qual for certain types of project, are quite compelling.

The immediate benefit of using online for focus groups is cost. Strip out costs for venue, travel, refreshments etc and you can concentrate your budget allocation on moderation, incentives and reporting.
Secondly, when speed is of the essence, the technology behind online qual allows for live recording of video/audio/typed comments with automatic transcription. For example word clouds can be created, with most-used words and phrases made larger to graphically highlight their importance.

However there are many additional benefits. Consider those difficult to reach audiences – users of niche markets, C-Suite executives, doctors etc. If getting them in a room together at the same time looks daunting, then imagine the increased complexity of trying to assemble a group hailing from different locations, countries or even continents.

But online is not constrained by geographical boundaries, so moderating focus groups with say CEO’s in UK and the US becomes a much more viable proposition. This is something we conducted recently in a project for Flexpaths – a specialist in flexible working solutions.

They wanted to identify what is holding companies back from embracing flexible work practices and identify how their software solutions could overcome those obstacles.

Online is ideal for this kind of work. Executives are familiar with technologies such as video conferencing and Skype and so find the medium quite natural to work with.

Also online provides the applications to share text, pictures and video. It is possible to test websites, software, screen grabs and apps. This allows for more depth, and provides more of a deliberative approach to examining complex issues.

Finally, online focus groups can be run in conjunction with your other research, which leads to other benefits. You can leverage online research communities and panels to provide sample for online focus groups, and by re-contacting sample, make research programmes ongoing. By conducting “longitudinal research” you can develop a better relationship with respondents over time, gaining a far deeper understanding of their needs.

The future of online qual looks bright, although let’s not get too carried away with the technology. Whatever platform used for focus groups, we should not lose sight of the fact that the skill of the moderator is key to delivering insightful effective research.
 





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