Online Focus Groups: the technology that “shortens distances” in service of qualitative research.
Focus groups, qualitative research methodology based on the discussion within a group of consumers, led by a moderator, about a specific product or service, tend more and more frequently to go out of physical spaces and arrive on the web.
In an online focus group every participant enters a “virtual room” while remaining comfortably at home, at different times and with different rules, that vary from case to case but which are clearly defined at the beginning of the discussion.
Choosing an online focus group rather than a traditional discussion around a table may seem to be a distortion of the traditional technique which will somehow affect the final results of the research: words become characters, facial expressions change into emoticons and the discussion pace and interaction will obviously be different.
An in-depth analysis, though, or simply the fact that this technique is increasingly used, confirm that this methodology, if properly applied, can have the same efficacy.
As Maria, a 40 year old employee who has been taking part in focus groups for a long time now, says:
“Online focus groups create a cozy discussion dimension I like.
Nowadays IT-based communication is an integral part of our everyday life in all fields: we use emails at work, we chat with our friends, we send text messages rather than love letters.
These ways of communicating are no longer an exclusive of young people and have become languages everybody knows, likes and uses […].”
Maria also adds:
“My lifestyle, like many other women who balance work, family and social life, would never allow me to take part in a focus group held in a place different from home.
The fact that I can participate in a flexible way while staying at home makes it possible for me to fit this activity, which I find interesting and stimulating, in my tight weekly schedule.”
Like Maria, a lot of people like the online focus group technique, both because they like the idea of discussing about a product or service with people they don’t know and sharing their opinions in a relaxing and stimulating atmosphere, and because they find that the opportunity of doing all this by using a pc is closer to their needs.