Moderating focus groups – the online moderator

It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of moderating or facilitating research in a focus group setting, but in reality moderation can be as easy as ABC when a focus group is conducted using the Group Quality™ online environment.

GroupQuality online moderator software

The Internet has given marketers and researchers a unique opportunity. We can now conduct effective focus groups in a completely web-based environment. Even though a chat or webcam-based online focus group is a lot easier than moderating a traditional focus group, online focus groups are still subject to many of the same rules. Even though the format might have changed, and conducting a focus group just got a whole lot easier, the core principles of moderating a focus group hasn’t.

Moderating the focus group discussion

An online focus group is a structured conversation. During the group discussion, the moderator extracts the insights needed to make important decisions. Even though participants open up more readily in a anonymous chat based focus groups, people are not inclined to discuss intimate thoughts and feelings with those they don’t feel comfortable with. For that reason, the first thing any focus group moderator should do is build some basic rapport with the group participants. This can be done by simply saying “hi“ and asking participants to share a common experience.

Often referred to as a warm up exercise, introductory discussion by text chat, or video and audio, helps to quickly break the ice. If a moderator appears calm, open, and friendly, the group members are likely to behave in a similar fashion. The moderator can launch a page in the focus group workspace to set down the group ground rules – an example template we include an a Group Quality™ account in the the plan manager.

After the initial warm up exercise and rapport building, the real discussion can begin. The moderator can activate the first discussion topic from the Group Quality™ moderator’s control panel, and allow the conversation to flow and evolve from there. A good moderator should have their topics and questions loaded in the research plan beforehand. This way, no matter which direction the group’s discussion takes, the moderator will be able to bring things back on track.

During the course of the session, it’s entirely possible that the moderator will end up listening to points of view and responses that conflict with his or her own belief system. It is important the moderator remains objective and finds out why these points of view exists, rather than skimming over them because its not what you want to hear.

Conflicting opinion is to be expected, and the moderator should maintain a friendly, respectful demeanour. Online focus group participants that feel challenged or belittled aren’t going to respond well. An online focus group moderator should strive to remain completely impartial at all times. People in a virtual group environment quickly pick up how other group members think and feel. If the moderator shows any kind of bias, this can easily taint participant responses, rendering the session useless.

Avoiding first time online focus group moderator mistakes

Online focus group moderator

There are a number of mistakes first time moderators make. One is over probing participants, the other is showing opinion bias. Though a good online focus group moderator needs to be able to keep participants talking about a topic to get the insights they need, they shouldn’t over probe individuals. There is a fine line between delving into a participant’s feedback and trying to extract an opinion which is just not present. What you are looking for is a response to your discussion topic and a clear understanding of the motivations and beliefs behind the expressed opinion. This requires you to “listen” to the participants, and is a skill you will definitely pick up in the Group Quality™ online focus group environment.

Moderators can unintentionally show bias by leading a question. This is where a question is phrased in such a way that leads the respondent to a desired conclusion before they even answer. For example, it would be a bad idea for a online focus group moderator to say “Some feel that cigarettes are dangerous, what do you think?” Instead, the phrasing should be more neutral – “What do you think about cigarettes?” It’s also possible to obtain biased responses simply by asking things in the wrong order. In general, it’s best to ask very general topical questions before asking for specific opinion.

Online focus groups have a unique advantage when it comes to mitigating moderator bias, particularly in chat-based groups. In person, it’s very easy to determine how someone feels or expresses themselves with cues like body language and tone. In a chat box however, we are stripped of these cues. Since moderator bias is often conveyed in things like tone and body language, chat based online focus groups makes it much harder for group members to detect and act on perceived bias. Which means participant responses are much less likely to be tainted by the moderator’s physical cues.

However, this is a double edged sword – it is very easy to read things like accusations or sarcasm into a text message. For this reason, it’s extremely important for online focus group moderators to be extremely clear when they’re phrasing their questions and topics. This can be easily accommodated by using the Group Quality™ chat prompt tool to add prescripted chat prompts into your group plan. As a means of avoiding reactive messaging and to maintain an objective position, a moderator can quickly select from pre arranged chat prompts during a heated group discussion.

Jump in and enjoy the online moderating experience

Though the idea of moderating an online focus group might seem a little intimidating, even if it’s just in a chat form, Group Quality™ makes it a easy and takes away the uncertainty. As long as you are friendly and impartial, have a group plan ready to go in the Group Quality™ moderator’s control panel, you will be able to enjoy a relaxed, fun online focus group that yields an abundance of valuable market insight!

Download the FREE Guide:

“How to conduct online focus groups”

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