Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Chat Room Focus Groups
What is a chat room focus group?
A chat room focus group is a live "discussion" conducted over the internet, conducted by a professional moderator among pre-recruited individuals who qualify to participate. In many respects, chat room focus groups are very similar to in-person focus groups - the primary difference is that we cannot see the respondents, and participants communicate with each other via typewritten (rather than spoken) words.
How are respondents recruited?
A variety of techniques may be used, but we recommend that some form of personal contact be included as part of the recruitment process. We typically recruit by phone to personalize the invitation to participate and thereby secure higher cooperation rates. Reminder notices are sent by email and by phone.
Can clients observe the discussion?
Yes. Observers enter the private chat room, just as respondents. As in a focus group facility, respondents are informed that there are observers. Based on our experience, chat room focus group respondents are even more oblivious to silent observers than traditional focus group respondents are to the mirrored wall.
Can observers communicate with the moderator?
Just as with in-person focus groups, observers can send messages to the moderator. In chat rooms, however, participants never know if or when messages are sent to the moderator. Likewise, the moderator can unobtrusively ask clarification questions of those in the back room.
Is the site secure?
Discussions are held in what we call private chat areas. Private chat rooms are not listed on a public list. Each chat room gets assigned a unique code name (usually with a random combination of letters and numbers) to minimize the chance that someone might accidentally find the room.
How many participants make up a typical chat room focus group?
Chat room focus groups should be a bit smaller than traditional focus groups. While traditional groups typically consist of 8-10 respondents, chat room sessions should consist of 6-8 participants. The reason for this is to make it easy for all participants (moderator, respondents, and observers) to keep up with the material and not become overwhelmed by the volume and rapid generation of data from participants.
Without videotapes or audio tapes, how is data captured?
All contributions sent to the chat room are "recorded" so that verbatim transcripts are available immediately after the conclusion of each group session. This enables a comprehensive analysis to begin sooner than with traditional groups.
How long does a chat room focus group session last?
We recommend that chat room focus groups last no more than 90 minutes. Typing and reading are more fatiguing than speaking and listening. We have noticed that the quality of participation frequently decreases after about 90 minutes.
Can groups be conducted back to back?
No. We recommend that at least one hour of downtime be scheduled between groups. As mentioned earlier, the energy spent in keyboarding and reading is more intense than speaking and listening. For this reason, the moderator should be given a meaningful rest period.
How are incentives handled?
Incentive checks are usually mailed to respondents within 2-3 days following the discussion. It is made clear during recruitment and at the beginning of each session that incentives are paid only to those who fully participate.
What are the advantages of a chat room focus group versus traditional in-person focus group?
Chat room focus groups have several advantages: Chat room focus groups require no travel and therefore save the client money. Because travel is not required, more stakeholders inside the clients' organization can observe the sessions in real time. These groups are not limited to any particular geography, permitting a more representative mix of participants. The relative anonymity of chat room focus groups puts participants on an equal footing with one another and promotes a higher level of openness during the discussion. The immediate availability of transcripts enables the analytical and reporting process to happen more quickly.
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