Heard of online focus groups but feeling like you’re old school because you haven’t ever seen one?
No worries. Here’s some info that will help you fake-it-’til-you-make-it as an authority.
The most common format for online focus groups today is the bulletin board. Bulletin board focus groups are great for reaching geographically dispersed participants and participants who’ll respond more openly if they remain anonymous.
- Bulletin board focus groups are not like face to face groups where the participants, observers and moderator meet for two hours, then go home. Participation in bulletin boards is “asynchronous,” meaning participants don’t have to be online at the same time. Participants answer questions each day at the time most convenient for them.
- In fact, participants don’t have to live in the same city. They can be in different time zones, happily typing their responses from their homes or offices.
- Participants usually spend from 15 to 30 minutes each day on the bulletin board. Most groups last three to five days.
- Observers can log into the conversation from their homes, offices or on the road. The bulletin board is divided into areas where the moderator’s questions appear, and where a related image, narrative description or video is shown. Participants type their responses in a reply box. Another section shows all participants’ and moderator comments.
- Typically, participants type their answers before seeing the responses of other participants. Participants can then discuss their reactions with each other. The moderator can type follow up questions for the group, send private messages to individual participants and interact with client observers through the software.
- iTracks, Qualvu and 20/20 provide bulletin board software platforms that are popular today. Each has unique strengths, but operate similarly.
- Unlike face to face groups, where moderators can instantly sense confusion and reframe questions in real time, a bulletin board moderator is limited to clarifying questions through posts, emails and phone calls to participants. This can take some time. To avoid having to reframe questions, bulletin board moderators need to be adept at projecting how participants will read and interpret questions.
Choosing a Moderator
This leads me to another important consideration when hiring a moderator: Make sure your moderator can guide your project team as well as customers through this process.
Team members have usually been immersed in an industry for several years. They forget what it’s like to think like customers, who may be engaged for only seconds. This is normal. Without coaching, team members frequently write research questions that are overly complex and jargon-packed. Their questions can be “technically correct” but ineffective in eliciting meaningful customer reactions. They often miss opportunities to surface critically needed insights.
Your moderator not only needs to be a qualitative research expert, but also a coach who can diplomatically nudge team members toward coalescing around meaningful, achievable objectives. His contributions will show up before the groups in the research design process, during the groups and afterward when your team will appreciate sage guidance about what they learned and how to apply it.
Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group provides qualitative, customer- and user-experience research and innovation workshops to Global 2000 clients. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation.
Jason direct: (440) 785-0547.
Add comment February 17th, 2012