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The Value of Accuracy in Online Focus Group Research

An online focus group, aka virtual focus group, is an online panel with multiple participants and a moderator, aimed at discovering rich insights that can’t be found with static surveys

First and foremost, why are organizations conducting focus groups? 

Organizations aren’t conducting focus group research just out of pure curiosity. They have a product or service they’re developing for a specific demographic, and they need feedback on that development process from prospective consumers that their product or service is geared towards.  

Therefore, sourcing targeted focus group participants is crucial; populating your focus group with individuals who don’t truly represent your target audience(s) will result in research findings that may not be applicable. This is why partnering with a research firm that knows how to source local populations with acute accuracy is so crucial.  

However, like most things in our day-to-day life, the pandemic changed the way researchers conducted focus groups. Many clients are looking for a safe environment to conduct them, so they’re turning to online focus groups. Ensuring that distance for COVID-safety measures is in place, virtual focus groups have become a great way to get a selected group to discuss advertisements, messages, and deeper insights into the “why” behind perceptions and opinions.  

So, what is an online focus group?  

Glad you asked! An online focus group, aka virtual focus group, is an online panel with multiple participants and a moderator, aimed at discovering rich insights that can’t be found with static surveys. The purpose of the focus group is that the interaction between the participants will allow for each person to share their unique perspective as well as influence others with open discussion. The overall goal is to share thoughts on the products, new concepts, or tell researchers specific insights about themselves as a target audience.  

Although focus groups have traditionally been in-person, online focus groups are becoming increasingly popular due to their convenience, both with timing and allowing researchers to reach people across geographies. They are also relatively inexpensive and offer multimedia capabilities such as videos, imagery, or audio clips.  


What are the benefits of an online focus group? 

Online focus groups offer many benefits for your organization. As we always say, work smarter, not harder. With the ever-advancing world of technology, online focus groups can save your organization time and money (who would ever say no to that?). Instead of attempting to find a time and agreeable location to get all participants in one location at the same time, they can do so from the comfort of their home or office. A comfortable environment also minimizes the chance of external factors, as they are more likely to share their thoughts in their own familiar surroundings. The recruiting process for an online focus group allows for the ability to draw participants from a national recruiting pool rather than from a few-mile radius and can result in participants that are perfectly qualified to give their opinions. As for the analysis of an online focus group, recordings and transcripts have a faster turnaround time which in turn means we are able to provide deliverables at a faster turnaround rate than in-person.  

Additional features that online focus groups have to offer are break-out rooms, which allow for smaller group discussions that some may feel more comfortable sharing in as opposed to a larger group setting. As mentioned earlier, the multimedia capabilities of an online focus group such as screen sharing can help provide visual aid for participants. For example, show the conversation outline on-screen as you talk through the discussion flow, or display the current discussion topic or questions. Screen share can also be used for something more visual, such as a diagram, or an image of a scene, product, or logo.  


When do I use a focus group over other types of research? 

Surveys are a great source to find information, but sometimes a one-way questionnaire isn’t sufficient for what you’re looking for. Focus groups offer a deeper conversation with follow-up questions and longer explanations. A focus group can be beneficial because it can help your organization uncover ideas and issues that your team may not have considered. They offer first-hand, spontaneous reactions the participants have toward the topic or product. Focus groups also offer a quicker way to gather information, and virtual focus groups allow for an even shorter data collection timeline.