Qualitative Research

Enriching Focus Groups with Online Communities

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Margaux Fisher

Senior Qualitative Analyst - Ethnography

As the world of research increasingly revolves around online and mobile methods, we researchers find ourselves looking for ways to adapt and incorporate new tools into our repertoire. Among the many ways research can be conducted online, communities stand out as among the most versatile. Several platforms such as Web Creator Suite developed in recent years offer a variety of capabilities.

One way to take advantage of this increased functionality – without abandoning the traditional qualitative methods we know and trust – is to combine online communities with focus groups.

Here are three reasons this can help give your research the best of both worlds.

1. Breaking the ice

As any focus group moderator can tell you, the first 10 minutes of a group are often spent not gathering valuable insights, but simply acclimating the respondents to the research process. While market research online communities cannot replace the ice-breaking routine at the start of any focus group, they can certainly greatly accelerate it. Respondents who have already spent a number of days, weeks, or even months sharing thoughts, feelings, and opinions with one another find it easy to continue doing so in a focus group setting.

2. Making the most of your time

Engaging focus group respondents with creative or projective activities, such as collage or storytelling, can be a great source of insight or inspiration. But so often, project objectives and limited time combine to preclude meaningful exploration.

Much like assigning “homework” before a group, online communities can provide a forum for executing and discussing more time-consuming, complex activities. Themes and ideas that arise from them can be examined during the communities themselves, or simply collected and then incorporated into the focus group guide. This allows for a second, deeper level of exploration after some preliminary analysis has already been done between the end of the community and the start of the groups.

Spending less time on completing lengthy activities and more time discussing revelations allows you to make the most of your limited focus group time.

3. Diving deeper

Ultimately, entering a focus group with the head start afforded by a community means diving deeper into the insights and findings that will be most useful and revealing for you and your clients. Market research online communities can reveal which topics to probe and which questions to discard, providing a useful “preview” of what may be discovered in the groups that can help test and refine the discussion guide.

Final insights

Combining all of this – research-ready participants who are familiar with each other and the topic, burgeoning themes and analysis, and a focused guide – can help you make the absolute most out of focus groups. On a limited budget, market research online communities serve as an easy way to reach more respondents and make your clients’ research dollars count.


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