A New Way to Conduct Focus Groups


One of the research mistakes that some associations make is conducting focus groups at their annual meeting.  Because members are in attendance, it provides the association with an opportunity to get feedback from a geographically diverse group.  However, conference attendees are typically not a representative group of members. So, any insights that are gathered must be viewed through a critical lens.

An alternative that has worked for many associations is to conduct an online focus group.  We refer to these as a Bulletin Board Focus Group (BBFG).  Using this method an association’s members are invited to apply via email where the process is explained, and the dates of the group are provided. Members volunteer to participate in the focus group by completing a short demographic form.  The members to be included in the group are then handpicked to ensure geographic, gender, and professional representation.

Login information, along with how the process will work, is shared with those selected.  A detailed questionnaire is also developed by the group moderator.

When the group begins, members are asked to independently answer the initial set of questions. Once completed other members of the group can see these responses and comment on them.  The participants remain anonymous to others in the group throughout the process. This anonymity can help participants share their opinions honestly and give even those who are more reticent a voice that may not occur in a face-to-face group.  As participants interact the BBFG moderator stays engaged and can reach out to individuals in the group to get clarification or more insight on a comment.  Observers from the association can also provide suggestions to the moderator and the moderator will then ask the participants for more information.  Additional questions are shared with the group spurring more discussion.  Sessions tend to be lively as members dialog and share their opinions on an issue.

A typical BBFG is held over the course of several days where participants can login to answer questions and exchange insights at a time that is convenient for them.  This is especially a benefit for associations with members in different time zones.  Because each participant types in their feedback, there is no need to transcribe responses as would be necessary when converting audio from an in-person group.

Focus groups are qualitative research.  They are not designed to provide statistical outcomes but will provide directional information.  In many cases, they are used before quantitative research is conducted to uncover possible questions and answers that otherwise might not have even been considered for inclusion in a full survey. Often the findings gathered from a BBFG will reveal surprising insights that can shape product development, messaging, and member engagement.  If research is part of your plan for this year you should look at using an online focus group as an option.  It is an economical and efficient method to gain important insights from members and prospects around the country and around the world. 

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