The Elephants’ guide for hosting online focus groups

The Elephants’ guide for hosting online focus groups

It has been a year since the outbreak of COVID-19. Business practices have drastically adapted to the ‘new normal’ and Elephants is no exception. The virus has predominantly altered the way we approach one of our core services: consumer insight generation.

Over the past 12 months, we have embraced the world of video conferencing to carry out numerous focus groups with consumers across the UK, Spain and Germany. We’ve found that there are some significant advantages of conducting online groups, such as fewer ‘no shows’ or late arrivals due to the absence of travelling to research facilities. Some consumers are also more relaxed which can result in richer responses, as they are participating from a familiar and comfortable setting.

From our experience over the past year, we’ve put together five top tips for conducting online focus groups:

1. Maintain focus with stimulus: Online groups are no different to face to face groups here. Stimulus plays a big role in keeping respondents engaged with their screens and focused for the session. We incorporate interactive stimulus where possible, such as grouping and ranking activities where consumers direct us to drag and drop elements on our shared screen.

2. Practice makes perfect: Once you have created your discussion guide and stimulus, and have chosen which video conference platform to use, as a moderator it is always important to do a practice run. We will do this between two of us, taking it in turns to work out how best to share our screens and lay out the stimulus so that it runs smoothly. This is also an opportunity to scope out whether your set up is good enough for hosting the groups with adequate lighting and a strong internet connection. 

3. Make it easy for the respondent: There are so many video conference platforms out there, each one different to use and set up. To save time at the beginning of the session, we make sure that all respondents have a clear set of instructions on how to get set up and top tips on how to ensure they are visible and audible in the session. This includes wearing headphones with a microphone if possible, making sure their face is well lit, and finding a WIFI hotspot with no background distractions. It is well worth including your field recruiter(s) when developing this guide as they will often think of issues that respondents might face during set-up that you may not consider.

4. But still be ready for technical difficulties: Even with the clearest instructions in the world there can still be technical hiccups at the beginning of the group. Always make sure you are on the call 15 minutes early to help respondents set up as they dial in. 

5. Make observers invisible: When you are moderating you want to be able to focus on the faces of the respondents without being distracted by any observing clients. We therefore always ask our clients to mute themselves and turn their camera off. If we need to communicate with them, we text or use the direct private message on the platform (careful not to click ‘send all’ though!)

The Herd

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