Video Conferencing Focus Groups
A Good Option If Utilized Effectively
Published in Quirk's Marketing Research Review
While most market research professionals will agree that watching focus
groups via videoconferencing is not as effective am experience as observing from
behind the one-way mirror, it definitely is far better than listening to audio
or videotapes after the fact. Videoconferencing does enable the client personnel
to observe the proceedings in real time, and therefore have the opportunity to
provide input to the moderator. However, many users of focus group
video conferencing do not get as much benefit from this technique as they could,
because they do not follow some basic guidelines which would enable them to
maximize the use of this very effective new technology.
The following will summarize the most important actions that a client
organization can take to leverage the benefits associated with using the video
conferencing technology when conducting focus groups in remote locations.
At The Focus Group Facility
- Before The Groups Begin - It is very important that the moderator
conduct a short briefing with the people in the remote location before the
sessions begin. The purpose of this briefing is to outline the
approach that will be followed in conducting the groups, and how the moderator
anticipates interacting with the people in the remote
location. Also, the pre-briefing should review the objectives of
the sessions, the composition of the groups and the post-group
debriefings. This is important, as it sends a message to the people
at the remote location that they should stay to the end so they can
participate in the discussion with the moderator.
- During The Groups - One of the biggest mistakes that organizations
make when using video conferenced focus groups is not to send anybody to the
remote location to interact with the moderator while the groups are in
session. The assumption is that the moderator will be able to come
to the back room during the group and talk to the people at the remote
location via telephone about any questions they might have, in much the same
way that they might if the observers were located behind the
mirror. This arrangement does not work, as it is too difficult and
time-consuming for the moderator.
The optimal solution would be for a very senior person on the project team
from the client organization to attend the focus group. This person
is charged with the responsibility of being the conduit between the people at
the remote location and the moderator. Their job is to ensure that
any information that the people want to communicate to the moderator can be
easily understood in a quick interaction when the moderator comes to the back
room for a brief time during the group. This makes the moderator's
job of receiving client input both more effective and much more efficient.
At The Remote Location/Client Observation Room
- Invitations & Guidelines - When people are invited to attend
the focus groups in the remote location, they should be provided with the
"rules" of the research that are required in order to
participate. While these may vary by organization, some of the
suggested rules that make for very effective observation sessions are:
- -All observers must be seated at least ten minutes before the groups
begin. Late comers will not be permitted to enter, as that is
distracting to the others.
- -People will not be permitted to leave the room during a session.
- -There will be no use of telephones during a session, and no interruptions
from outside the focus group room from secretaries, other colleagues, etc.
- Room Arrangements - It is very important that a remote viewing room
be arranged so that attendees have a good view of the focus group
proceedings. Therefore, it is essential that sufficient monitors,
ideally very large wide screen versions, are available in the room for people
to use during the session.
- Pre-Group Briefing - At the remote location, there should be a
pre-group briefing by one person who is in charge of the activities at this
end. They would provide each attendee with copies of materials
needed to observe the groups (i.e., discussion guides, other stimulus
materials), and would review the rules regarding leaving the room and using
phones. They also would emphasize the need for quiet during the
- During The Group - Once the group begins at the facility location,
all lights are turned off in the remote area, to encourage people to focus on
the monitors. This is a vital part of a successful remote viewing
experience, as the dark environment will discourage talking and interaction
among the various people in the room. If people require some light
for note taking, arrangements should be made for very low wattage lights to be
available to them.
The local chairperson should serve as the conduit between the people in the
remote observation area and the client contact at the focus group
facility. Therefore, if someone has an important question that must
get to the moderator, this should go through the chairperson to get to the
facility. This provides some degree of control on the quantity and
nature of the material that ultimately gets asked of the moderator during the
Here to stay
Video conferencing of focus groups is a trend that is here to
stay. There are many benefits of using this technology, not the least
of which is the very significant cost savings that companies can realize from
the reduced travel expenses. However, if the technology is not
utilized properly, the benefits will not be worthwhile, as the value
organizations get from their focus groups will be significantly
reduced. Hopefully, the information in this article will help users
of video conferencing make the technique work more effectively for them, and
encourage non-users to try video conferencing, now that they know how to get the
most out of the technique.