Virtual focus groups are a vehicle for gaining qualitative insights into target audiences as respondents participate through the comfort and ease of their own devices. While such sessions are often more convenient for participants, there are several differences to address when compared to traditional, in-person focus groups.
First and foremost: choosing a platform. Here are some key considerations that go into selecting the right platform for the right project:
Gone are the two-way mirrors when it comes to virtual focus groups. Instead, you can now observe sessions remotely from your desktop or mobile device, maintaining the benefit of having a backroom. The number of observers, observer visibility, and means of communication are all factors to consider when analyzing the backroom features of a platform and whether they cover the project’s needs.
Transcripts and video
As a best practice, you want to come out of virtual focus group sessions with written transcripts and video files as a reference. Most platforms can record the sessions, and many will provide an auto-generated and complimentary transcription.
Access to transcripts and recordings will vary by platform as well. Some allow anyone with a platform login and project access to download and review themselves, while others require the session host or moderator to download and deliver them. Generic, auto-generated transcripts from the platforms are helpful for quickly navigating to revisit certain areas of the recording. Still, you may want to consider a manual transcription service if you heavily rely on them for quotes and context.
Some platforms offer other video capabilities: features such as marking moments in real-time to track themes and quotes easily and cutting clips to assemble a report or highlight reel.
Level of participant interaction
How involved the participants will be in the session can influence platform requirements. This can range from simply responding to stimuli shared from a moderator’s screen to editing the stimuli or sharing screens themselves.
The level of features offered across virtual focus group platforms has a direct correlation with their costs. Costs can span from essentially free to having line-item payments (such as manual transcriptions or technology support) on top of a base fee. Outlining which features are critical, which are nice enhancements, and which are unnecessary for the project can help inform which platform will best suit the study (and your budget).
Proactive considerations for virtual focus groups
While eliminating the travel time and hassle through conducting a virtual focus group should make participation easier on respondents, there are a few logistical caveats to watch out for:
- It can be easier for participants to bail. The lighter commitment of not traveling means it’s also easier for sessions to fall off participants’ radars. This makes reminder communication and collecting (and securely storing) up-to-date contact information key.
- Virtual focus groups typically take longer (production-wise) than they would in person. Given the added technology, allow extra time to accommodate troubleshooting, internet lags, and the numerous “you’re on mute” reminders where participants will have to repeat themselves.
Virtual focus group platforms: Finding the right fit
As with most research designs, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for conducting virtual focus groups. Some projects may require heavier engagement, analysis, and deliverables. Some may be shorter and easier to revisit recordings. Some may have a tight timeline that needs a report turned around yesterday. A 360-degree understanding of the project needs and experienced partners who are comfortable with their platform toolkit helps inform which approach will deliver the most efficient virtual focus group experience.
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