Online focus groups and bulletin boards are an ideal market research tool for small business owners and managers as they are not only cost effective, they are also ideal for getting feedback from a geographically disperse target market. In this post I will outline both methodologies and some pros and cons of conducting online qualitative research.
Online Focus Groups
Online focus groups are conducted in much the same way as face to face focus groups, except suitable respondents who are recruited to participate are not asked to turn up to a certain location on a certain day. Instead they are given a user name and password and asked to log onto at a certain time to participate in a group discussion.
Like face to face focus groups online groups are run by a moderator, the only difference is the moderator types a question and participants respond by typing in their answers.
Ideally, online groups should be a similar size to face to face groups with around 6-8 respondents, and last on average around 90 minutes.
Online bulletin boards work much the same way as focus groups, in that the respondents are given a user name and password and asked to log on to a website to participate. However, instead of everyone logging on at a certain time respondents can log on at a time suitable to them, to answer questions posted by the moderator. Not only do bulletin boards provide flexibility for geographically dispersed respondents, they also provide flexibility for respondents who find it difficult to schedule a two hour time slot to participate in a group discussion.
Bulletin boards can last several days or several weeks. Respondents can log on at any time over this period to answer questions. The moderator may post all the questions at once or individually. They can make them visible to all respondents or some. Other people’s responses can be kept hidden from the group or visible to all.
One of the biggest advantages of this methodology is that because it is carried out at a time suitable to respondents can log on when it suits them with no time restrictions, so answers tend to be more in depth and thought out.
The Pros and Cons on Online Qualitative Research
Regardless of whether you choose to do online focus groups or take the bulletin board approach, there are definite advantages to using online research methods, apart from being able to talk to geographically diverse groups. Some other great pros are:
- They are relatively inexpensive; there are no travel costs to cover, or venues to hire.
- Participation is anonymous which may encourage more frank discussions.
Transcripts are created automatically, as respondents are typing in responses, making data analysis more efficient.
Of course as with any methodology, there are also disadvantages which need to be considered, such as:
- Because everyone is sitting behind a computer typing, and not sitting in a group room enjoying some nice food and drink, then they become less interactive. Respondents are often busy typing and less likely to be paying attention to what others are saying, so they do not bounce ideas off each other in the same way,
- Respondents tend to be less thorough in the their answers when they are typing ( this is less of an issue when using bulletin boards as they have longer and are often in a more ready state of mind when they are answering in their own time and own pace).
- You are relying on respondents having a reasonable level of technical skills, otherwise the moderator spends their time trying to get everyone online to participate.
What is better online or face to face qualitative research?
As more and more people are becoming social media savvy, the speed and ease of carrying out qualitative research online will definitely grow and improve. However, there are a number of advantages face to face qualitative research, such as the ability of group members to brainstorm, and bounce ideas off each other, not to mention the nonverbal cues you get from participants. In online groups you will miss the grimace on respondent’s faces while you show them a terrible or controversial advertising campaign. Respondents are often more polite or diplomatic in their choice of words, body language can tell a story by itself at times. In the end, you need to make a decision as to what is the best methodology based on the project you are running the budget and the timings.