The latest twist on focus groups is the move to an online format. Using chat and Web conferencing technology, the Internet has made it possible for people from around the world to gather online, eliminating travel costs and other logistical problems associated with traditional face-to-face focus groups.
When online, participants sometimes speak more freely because they're sitting at home and feel anonymous. Online focus groups allow qualitative research to be completed more quickly and at a lower cost.
On the other hand, moderators can't see the body language or facial expressions of online group participants. If a client needs to see a consumer use or taste a product, online focus groups aren't a good choice.
Instead of one-way mirrors, online platforms allow clients to watch the online discussion from a "back room." Clients can "talk" amongst themselves, communicate with the moderator during the session, add new discussion questions, all while sitting in their own offices at their own computers.
Many Web conferencing programs have been developed in the last few years. The programs often bundle tools already common to Internet communication to create an interactive meeting environment. Tools used include:
- Chat and instant messaging technology
- Webcams that send streaming video
- Screen sharing that allows participants to view information from the moderator's desktop
These allow companies to bring focus groups together at a lower cost and in a faster time frame. They can discuss political issues, new product concepts and information about brand identity without needing to leave their office. Using Web conferencing programs, they can record the session for additional analysis or to play again later.
Companies and organizations will always need feedback from their targeted customers so the focus group will continue to be a valuable tool. Web-conferencing advances make it easier to host focus groups, and other technological advances will be sure to follow.
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