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Preparing to Conduct Online Market Research

Partnering With Online Market Research Providers

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Preparing to Conduct Online Market Research

Second Life Virtual Meeting Observation Area

Jack Tatar, GEM Research Solutions

Let's say you've decided to commission an online research services provider to administer your focus group. What should you do before the check is in the mail? Before you enter into discussions about your project with the provider, there are a few initial steps you need to take.

  • Articulate your research objectives
  • Establish a project budget
  • Determine moderator skills and knowledge set
  • Identify a representative sample group

Be Clear About Research Goals

Focus group research is exploratory in nature, so think about what territory you want to cover with your online participants. Writing down your research objectives is an important early step in developing your research plan.

If you would like to read more about developing goals and objectives for your market research, refer Choosing Between Quantitative and Qualitative Methods.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you examine the websites of providers to find a good match to your research goals:

  • You want to showcase respondents' individual experiences.
    Choose software that highlights the participants' profiles.
  • You want to emphasize the differences and similarities between participants?
    Select software that permits simultaneous typing in order to minimize copycat responses.
  • You need to describe and explain relationships.
    Shop for software that allows you to footnote the transcript during the focus group discussion.

Sign up for free online demos of software. And consider asking for a pre-sale trial of the most promising software candidate.

Cost-Benefit Comparison

There are a number of economic benefits to online focus group research. The most obvious budget consideration is a reduction in travel expenses and the environmental impact of travel. Participants respond from wherever they are located. Global reach can be easily achieved. Conventionally produced transcripts taken from audio or video recordings can be expensive and may take days or weeks to be completed. In online focus group software, transcripts are embedded in the data gathering process and available immediately after the discussion closes.

There is less chance of running over budget when transcripts are part of a package. It is important to factor data quality into your evaluation. A data set from online focus group research will be complete as essentially all responses have been recorded just as they were transmitted.

Moderator Effectiveness in Online Research

A moderator of an online focus group may find it challenging to guide the discussion or effectively request elaboration on a given topic. It may be difficult for moderators -- and participants, too -- to accurately gauge personalities or styles from online responses.

Prior experience and comfort with virtual environments may influence the range and depth of participants' responses in online focus groups. Respondents who frequently text phone messages and use instant messenger on their computers may be confident that they are conveying nuanced messages. In the same vein, respondents who engage in 3-D games for leisure may find that the virtual environment stimulates rather than hinders their exchange of ideas. With a little practice, respondents may become quite good at providing non-verbal communication through the proxy action of their avatars.

Recruiting Participants

An online focus group project should have a specific plan for identifying and recruiting participants. An examination of your market segments can provide the specific criteria to use when screening for participants. The participants in your focus group should be a small sample or subset of your target market. If you pre-select and invite focus group participants yourself, you may wish to use sampling techniques that ensure you have the market segment representation you desire. Alternately, consider whether you prefer to use a panel of focus group participants established and maintained by an online research services provider.

If you are clear about your research needs and budget, you can send an email inquiry to the provider. If you need help in this area, you can also ask for consultation. Providers customarily offer a price-tiered proposal from which potential customers can select various services.

For more ideas about how to make the best use of online interactive market research, take a look at my article Redefining Focus Group Methods.

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