Conducting a face to face, traditional style, focus group requires careful preparation to ensure the ninety-minutes spent with the panel of people is not wasted. Tasks such as checking your audio and video and making sure the refreshments are ready to be served. You have people arriving in the waiting room where they are reading their consent slip, which explains their right and obligations by participating. The observers are already waiting for the group to start in another room looking at the group area through a one-way mirror or a video monitor. Just like traditional focus groups an online chat focus group takes the time to prepare but enables you to cut out a lot of the expense, time and logistics. However, you still need to prepare for the online group, and the more time you invest, the better the results. The advantage of online is that once you prepare for one group the easier, faster and cheaper it will be to conduct additional online focus groups.
To get the most out of a chat-based online focus group follow these five steps for success.
- Schedule groups to run on a day and time that suits you and your participants. Forget about traffic and travel time, it’s no longer relevant, but do think about the times your participant’s might be sitting down to dinner or relaxing at home for the evening. Leave it too late and they become too relaxed and are likely to forgo participating at the last minute, start it too early you might not give them enough time to get home. Check with the recruiter, or the participants, what are the best times and choose a time which meets everyone in the middle. Evening sessions tend to work well for groups that focus on generating consumer insights, and late afternoon is typically convenient for business groups. You may find timing is also dependent on the demographics and location of your participants.
- It is recommended that a real-time group be limited to a maximum of 90 minutes. After this time, you may find participants start to get fatigued and the quality of the discussion may start to deteriorate. Attendance and participation is greatly improved if you spend the time ensuring that everyone has access to a computer or large screen internet-connected device they are confident using. Larger screens a better for online chat focus groups because they enable you to show images or share text on the screen while interacting with participants over chat. You will also find that smaller devices will result in less descriptive answers. It can even slow down the groups progress if a few participants are trying to type out a detailed response on a small screen. For this reason, we always suggest a dive that has a minimum screen width of 1100 pixels and a full keyboard. When soliciting responses, you want to make sure participants can express their feelings and thoughts without having to battle predictive text on their device.
- Spend the time creating the discussion plan for the screen and not for a traditional face to face focus group. The research plan is the most important part of the online process. Get this right and you will have a template model you can reuse in the future to cut down your group preparation time. To identify the visual material, you will need to present during your group session, invest time scribbling down ideas and drawing out some rough outlines of the chat timeline. This will help you plan for the digital assets (images, videos etc.), you will need to upload to your media manager before creating the media pages for your online focus group. The on-screen discussion guide must consider the online environment and the way participant’s will be perceiving the information you present. The topics and questions you ask must be detailed and accurate enough to be understood by reading the text instructions. This varies form a discussion guide you might use in a face to face situation which maybe more of a talking point guide. The way to look at online chat discussion guide is to think about it like writing a script. For example: in an offline discussion guide you might have something like “Talk about how using product X makes them feel and explore the types of feelings.” The equivalent online discussion topic might read something like, “Considering our discussion about product X, when using product X, how do you feel? Please describe these feelings in as much detail as possible?” Those who have had experience writing survey will see how it more mimics a survey question than a discussion plan, this is intentional and online chat groups share a lot characteristics with online surveys.
- For real-time chat, online research, we recommend you keep your group between 8 to 10 participants. Less than 6 may not provide the level of interaction needed to maximise the results and more than 10 may be a challenge for a single moderator to effectively manage. For example, an ideal size for a real-time online focus group is 8 participants, 1 moderator and 1 or 2 observers. Inviting participants with a personalised message will be the first step in establishing trust between you and a participant. If it is deemed practical, we also recommend you make verbal contact with the participants (phone or Skype) prior to sending out the invitations. Personal contact will provide you with an opportunity to introduce yourself and answer any questions participants may have about the proposed group session. By taking the time to make personal contact you will immediately improve group attendance and make participants feel a little more confident and comfortable when attending a real-time online focus group.
- Moderating or facilitating your real-time group session is easy when using a moderator’s control panel. It is important the moderator logs into the group 10 minutes before the scheduled start time so that they are available to greet participants as they arrive. The discussion plan should include an “easy” warm-up task, just like a traditional face to face focus group. A warm-up discussion will get everyone adjusted to the online chat tools and give the moderator an opportunity to assess the chat speed and chat profile of the individual participant (how each person expresses themselves in content, chat speed and vocabulary). The moderator control panel is in the moderator’s view of the workspace and makes running a real-time group session as easy as clicking a button with your mouse. The control panel will help you manage the discussion plan/ guide timeline, track each participant, identify participant progress and keep the discussion moving in the right direction. The moderator’s workspace control panel enables a single moderator to effectively and efficiently manage an online focus group without requiring additional assistance.
This article first appeared @ groupquality.com/blog