An online focus group is one type of research method, particularly falling under focus groups which makes use of the internet, thus people do not meet physically but are able to exchange ideas and converse through conferencing software (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.).
In particular, this is how it is done: "A moderator invites prescreened, qualified respondents who represent the target of interest to log on to conferencing software at a pre-arranged time and to take part in an online focus group. Some researchers will offer incentives for participatingbut this raises a number of ethical questions. Discussions generally last one hour to 90 minutes. The moderator guides the discussion using a combination of predetermined questions and unscripted probes. In the best discussions, as with face to face groups, respondents interact with each other as well as the moderator in real time to generate deeper insights about the topic" (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.).
Some consider online focus group as a breakthrough in conducting market research and is found to be an effective way to lead the select groups to a more in-depth discussion about the topic on hand (BioInformatics, LLC ). This is so as both clients and respondent participants can comfortably participate from their own office or home. This then allows for a greater number of participants and extends the geographic scope of possible participants world wide (Insights Online).
Online focus group is a relatively new way of conducting market research. It is one of the innovations brought by an increase in the use of technology. The online focus group is seen to be an alternative to the traditional face-to-face focus group done for the same purpose of market research.
"Online focus groups are appropriate for consumer research, business to business research and political research. Interacting over the web avoids a significant amount of travel expense. It allows respondents from all over the world to gather, electronically for a more representative sample. Often respondents open up more online than they would in person, which is valuable for sensitive subjects. Like in-person focus groups, online groups are usually limited to 8-10 participants" (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.).
Basically the methodology observed is this: clients are able to observe the focus group while it is in session. They can also communicate with the moderator; therefore can influence the direction to which the discussion leads without necessarily interrupting the session. Since participants type their own responses, there is no room transcription errors are completely avoided. (Insights Online).
Online Focus Groups are conducted in the following step-by-step process:
1. Develop screener and discussion guide.
2. Program screener into HTML/CGI format. (if neccessary)
3. Screen/recruit participants for desired qualifications. (if neccessary)
4. Moderate the Online Focus Group session with client observers.
5. Provide transcript. (normally within 24 hours after group session)
6. Provide topline report. (normally within one week after closing survey)
7. Compile final written or oral presentation.
Source: Insights Online
Some view online focus group as advantageous compared to the more traditional market research methods. In summary, online focus group has the following advantages:
Responses are more objective. Respondents participating in online focus