5 top tips for conducting online focus groups

Online focus groups can be a simple, fast and affordable way to get that killer insight you need. As it is not unusual for market research plans to be short on both time and money here are 5 top tips to support you save both and get started.

to truly understand why people do what they do – try to walk in their ‘digital’ shoes

Tip 1: Confirm your pre-qualifier questions.

Scope out your pre-qualifier questions and really focus in on who it is that you want to engage with. A vague category such as ‘patients’ or ‘middle aged dads’ is not clear and can cause stakeholder confusion down the road. Look at their characteristics for example, their age, gender, digital usage, parent, employed, Gen Z, cat lovers, runners etc.

Importantly, before you begin to recruit for the groups, get your pre-qualifier questions agreed with stakeholders. Don’t assume you all have the same picture of the audience. (Unless you have a persona of course.) The more questions you have, the smaller the segment will be which will make it harder to recruit to. The goal is not to make life harder but to make it clearer.

Tip 2: Join chats and use paid advertising on the tools where your audience already are.

Use the tool that your audience is using to recruit your participants. Go to your audience, in their digital space and ask them to engage. This can be using social media groups or through paid advertising. Facebook advertising uses the data collected by its members to target by characteristics as well as places. Or you can join groups and chats where your members are and just ask. You will be surprised how simple this can be. After all you are asking people who are already comfortable expressing their views online. For example when recruiting busy mums in specific locations I joined their local buy & sell communities as they are very popular. Be open with administrators. Transparency is important.

Tip 3: Offer an incentive to bring a friend.

Chances are your perfect recruit hangs out with other potentially perfect recruits, so ask them to refer a friend. If you are using incentives, you can tailor them and make them a win-win for everyone. For instance, in the past I have offered a greater incentive and matched it for the friend also as I know it has saved me valuable time. I normally use high-street vouchers and offer a choice to the participant, similarly I have also donated goods to local charities. You will know how your audience will want their time to valued.

Tip 4: Include the ‘chat rules’ and ‘restate the permissions’ in your topic guide.

A topic guide is fundamental to a successful focus group – online and off. In online focus groups it is essential that the guide should include the chat rules and restate the permissions.

In my experience – just as in real life – folk can chat and go off on a tangent but when this is online it can runaway from you very quickly. In the past I wished I had been clearer about not starting new threads and the need to allow for time for everyone to respond.

Take time to restate the permissions in the topic guide so that when it is signed off by stakeholders they can see the limitations. Research with audiences should not equal potential case studies but at the same time why not begin a longer term relationship. Ensure you are clear how you will hold and keep data, how (if) the chat is being recorded and how it will be analysed and published or shared.

Tip 5: The emoji rules

The emoji rules.Or in other words embrace the digital environment. When conducting interactive groups folk will chat and express their emotions about the subject to you and fellow participants using emojis. Unless you make it a rule not use them, take advantage of relaxed nature of the digital interface and enjoy the session.


My feelings are huge. Maybe I’m meant to have more than just one emotion!  Emoji Movie (2017)

Need help getting started or just have more questions than answers then give me a shout on ruth@socialinsightmarketing.co.uk or leave a comment below.

Leave a Reply