Technology has helped us to come a long way in how we conduct research – panel companies, online surveys, geocaching, etc. Researchers seem to have fully embraced elevating quantitative methods through technology. That same fervor and passion seems to be lacking on the qualitative side of things, however, despite the availability of appropriate technology for other methods of research.
What are online focus groups?
I’m not talking about a global resistance, but I am surprised at how many clients and colleagues balk at the idea of holding online focus groups. The most common argument against online groups that I’ve encountered has been:
“They’re just not the same – we’ll miss something.”
I think that’s a weak argument. Today’s online focus groups are no longer a black and white chat session akin to instant messaging a group of strangers for 60 minutes.
Today’s online groups are more akin to a web conference call – a webcam, a dependable internet connection, and an open mind are all you need. In addition, there is a virtual back room that lets you, the moderator and the client team have those same types of discussions you would have otherwise, without pausing the group.
Online Qualitative Methodology
Here are four lines of questions (in no particular order) that I ask myself before suggesting that online groups be considered as a methodology.
- Is it sufficient to identify consumers in key markets or would your research be better served with a nationally representative, or even globally representative, set of consumers?
- What is the reality of your project logistics: your timeline, budget and travel team? Are there a large number of stakeholders expecting to attend your groups? If so, where are they located in proximity to you and to each other?
- What is your research topic? Is it sensitive? Does it require an in-person touch?
- Can you afford to take a chance? Is your end client an early adapter of technology? Are they willing to suspend judgment on the technology and what they expect for groups?
Advantage of online focus groups
Online groups may not be a replacement for traditional focus groups, but , I think they are becoming an increasingly cost-effective alternative.
You may miss out on the M&M’s in the backroom, but you will spend less time and money on travel, be able to deliver results quickly, and you may find that you have a new feather in your cap.
Seems like a fair deal to me.
Photo Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uwehermann/