Why we should be conducting remote focus groups

A focus group invites a small number of people to discuss a particular concept, product or service in the form of a pre-planned discussion that is guided by a facilitator. 

Focus groups are an important user experience (UX) process and a valuable research method for gathering insights and qualitative data on a brand’s target market. These groups have been responsible for shaping many of the products or services that enter the consumer market, whether that be a cake mix, cars or toothpaste. 

It allows brands to gather valuable insight into how their product will be received by their target market.

Traditionally, a focus group would be conducted in a face-to-face format, however, there are various formats that could better fit your research needs, such as hosting a focus group remotely. 

Given the current outbreak of the coronavirus and the need to minimise travel and social interactions, remote focus groups are a feasible alternative.

Remote focus groups can either be asynchronous or synchronous in format. In asynchronous focus groups, participants will log in to a site or platform to answer questions or respond to other participants’ comments. On the flipside, synchronous focus groups are more similar to face-to-face focus groups as participants will interact with the facilitator and each other during a live session.

What are the benefits of remote focus groups?

  • It’s cost-effective: these focus groups are carried out using virtual conferencing and recording software, which can be available for free. The total cost for the focus group will also be reduced as you won’t need to account for travel expenses, video recording equipment or the provision of refreshments for your participants.
  • It’s time-saving: running your focus group remotely is a fast and efficient way of discerning the value of your product within a limited timescale. Remote focus groups don’t need to be hosted at viewing facilities and so the turnaround time is generally much faster than a face-to-face focus group.
  • It’s convenient: participants will be able to take part in the remote focus group from the comfort of their own homes, which can increase the realism of the feedback received as participants might feel more at ease in their home setting. This also means you can bring together participants who are geographically dispersed into a single, virtual space.

What are the challenges?

Whilst there are clear advantages to running your focus group remotely, this format can also produce its own set of unique challenges and limitations. 

One of which could be technical issues; wherein participants might encounter issues when logging in to the software or they may experience problems related to their internet connection, both of which could be disruptive to the session. 

With remote focus groups, the facilitator will not have the opportunity to observe and evaluate non-verbal communication from the group’s participants in the same way, which could mean that their feedback is misinterpreted. Emotional reactions and important visual cues that might have otherwise been picked up during the face-to-face focus group, might be missed in a remote session. 

How to get the most out of your remote focus group:

All focus groups: 

  • Control your group sizes: focus groups should only invite a limited number of participants to attend and ideally, this number will be between 6-10. Larger groups have the potential to derail meaningful conversation which can affect the overall quality of feedback
  • Incorporate video and audio: incorporate the use of video and audio stimuli during the session to increase engagement from participants

Synchronous focus groups:

  • Moderate the session effectively: allow adequate time for participants to read and answer questions and moderate debates 
  • Follow a script: a script can provide structure to the session, but you should not follow the script so closely that it becomes restrictive
  • Ask for clarification: participants may give shorter answers when they are taking part in a remote session, so be sure to ask open-ended questions and ask for further clarification on any ambiguous answers

In the current climate, conducting focus groups remotely helps to provide flexibility for gathering research and can help your brand to overcome time and cost restrictions and allow you to continue progressing your designs and products.

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Freya Wallace


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