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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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Everything in Moderation: Moderating Online Focus Groups

I ran my first live chat online focus group back in 2007 and, thinking back, there are quite a few things which I have discovered in the intervening 5 years and 50+ live online groups which I wish I’d know then.  The list is, needless to say, constantly growing and evolving as we try new techniques, incorporate some great ideas from clients, and make the odd mistake along the way.  Here’s a list of 5 handy hints – this is definitely an on-going learning process and therefore a work in progress!

It should be noted that here I’m talking about live chat focus groups with around 6-10 participants lasting for 1 – 2 hours, rather than asynchronous bulletin board groups.

1)    Focus, focus, focus!

In all types of focus groups, having a specific topic for discussion really helps, but for online groups this is even more important.  Not everyone is a top touch-typist, or used to using Instant Messaging and quite as quick at responding as you’d like.  This means that your carefully planned but jam-packed topic guide with input from everyone across the business might go out of the window and you find that you never get to that vital last section.

2)    Be a top touch-typist

It’s far from essential (especially when you can pre-load questions and prompts), but for ad-hoc responses and probing, it makes life useful to be able to post a speedy reply before the discussion moves on.  Now where did I leave that ‘Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing’ disc?*

3)    Have a road map for the group – and share it with group members.

Participating in an online focus group could be a disenfranchising experience if you’ve not taken part in a group before and aren’t sure what is expected of you and when.  If you’re talking about a process or customer journey, why not tell participants at the start of the discussion what you’ll be discussing using a diagram or map, then refer back to it throughout the group, for instance at the start of each section?  This helps frame the discussion and participant expectations and can also help reassure them that they won’t be expected to hang on online all afternoon!

4)    Mix it up

A variety of methods is even more important in online groups than in face-to-face groups as they help to break up large amounts of text-based discussion.  Images to be annotated, quick ‘shows of hands’ and showing stimuli (images and video) break the experience up for participants, and also allow a bit of ‘breathing space’ for participants, moderator and any clients viewing as well as facilitating great feedback on images, ads and concepts.

5)    Respond and reflect

Good practice in a face to face group but even more important when moderating online! Without feedback, response and reflection, participants start to feel that they are involved in an online survey rather than a live discussion.  Further, reflecting on people’s points, asking for examples, sympathising, explaining and so on go a long way to showing that they are engaged with a real researcher and not a chat-bot!

Why not share your top tips and online focus group experiences with us using the submit comments form below?

*Other online typing teachers are available!

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