Focus groups vs online communities

The lines of battle are drawn for a confrontation at the center of qualitative market analysis, a fight between old and modern. On the one hand, is the online research pioneer– cost-effective, versatile and with the capacity to monitor the respondents over time. On the other hand, are the conventional face-to-face methodologies – tested and proven, successful methods that boast the personal touch.


The use of online methodologies, especially research communities, continues to rise as both clients and respondents accept them as legitimate primary research approaches.


Since first invented by Robert Merton at the Bureau of Applied Social Research, the venerable focus group has been a go-to market research solution. However, times change and innovation is marching forward. Online communities are clearly a much better choice for many important research projects in the market today.

A focus group is a type of observational analysis in which a group of people is asked about their thoughts, beliefs, suggestions, and input on a product, service, or other topic of interest. Questions are posed in an open community environment where members and the moderator are able to communicate with each other. Typically, focus groups are conducted in person at a central location (or online), last two hours, and comprise 8-12 participants from a single segment.


As market research experts, we offer a variety of services that cover all your business needs. In fact, DataDiggers does online focus groups in all the countries where we own strong and fast growing proprietary online panels across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as around the world via carefully chosen local partners.


The participants to the online focus groups are recruited from our own online panels via a short online survey. Whoever qualifies and accepts to participate in the subsequent online focus group is asked to login the online focus group platform at a certain date and hour and get involved in the discussion as much as possible.


An online community, also known as a "Market Research Online Community" (or MROC), is also a type of observational analysis in which a group of people are surveyed about their attitudes, opinions, ideas and suggestions regarding a product, service or other subject of interest. Questions are answered through a series of immersive study events such as polling, picture markups, message forums and online simulations with the whole group of participants and/or in individual, one-on-one conversations.

Participants communicate over their computer, laptop and/or cell phone with each other and the moderator. Virtual groups are performed online, last one to two weeks, and involve 50-150 members (often from different segments).


No one could have predicted twenty years ago how much time we would spend on the Internet. Today, nearly everyone owns a small device that allows them to access the internet anywhere, anytime.


Even if you don't want to fully substitute the tried and tested approaches with an online market research community, MROCs will supplement conventional methods at the very least, because they have some distinct advantages when it comes to obtaining consumer insight.


- A MROC may be an option and is more cost-effective and easier to manage. This will also allow you to draw from a much greater sample size – and that doesn't mean you have to trade accuracy for quantity either. An online market research community will continue as long as you want, offering enough opportunities to participate and have constructive contact with each group member.

- Everyone who has held a focus group understands that some people will be less honest than others, be it out of shyness or fear of revealing offensive things. Participants are more likely to feel at ease in an online environment, offering a free-flowing conversation of truthful, unfiltered input which will allow researchers to gather more valuable insights.

- Because online market research communities may be performed over an infinite amount of time, the conversation may be more spontaneous, with members of the group reacting spontaneously when they really have something to say – rather than requiring an answer in a time-limited environment. Researchers will directly follow the evolving relationship between a person in the MROC and an item.

We could say that both groups involve bringing together people to provide feedback that is essential for marketing and product development, but they do operate in various ways.


People are living a lot of their lives online now, so it is only logical that market research should meet with them there. Although conventional focus groups often provide the irreplaceable value of human contact in-person, it is clear to see that online market research communities provide a number of unique advantages that make them a critical resource for performing market research in the 21st century.

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