A bulletin board focus group (sometimes called an online focus group) is a web-enabled innovation in the qualitative market research world. As the name suggests, this approach uses an online forum to connect with participants through moderated, asynchronous (i.e. not in real-time like an IM chat) discussions that typically last for a few days. In addition to responding to the moderator’s questions/follow-up questions, a participant can also comment on feedback from their fellow participants.
Bulletin Board Focus Groups: Advantages
There are some clear and compelling advantages of using bulletin board focus groups, including:
- Inexpensive to setup and run compared to other data gathering methods.
- The participant-to-participant interaction, combined with the ability for moderators to follow-up, can lead to valuable and unexpected insights.
- Overcomes geographic and time zone barriers.
- Convenient access can lead to greater participation and response rates.
- Moderators can target specific participants or small groups and engage them independently.
- Anonymity can help participants share their opinions more honestly.
- Supports participant pools of various sizes, including very large groups.
- Transcribing data is much simpler, faster and cheaper compared to some other methods.
- Can be archived and accessed at a future date and/or analyzed against other types of qualitative research (including other bulletin board focus groups).
Bulletin Board Focus Groups: Disadvantages
At the same time, there are some important potential disadvantages to keep in mind, including:
- May exclude participants who are not tech-savvy or who do not have easy access to the internet.
- Although well designed bulletin boards are easy to use, some participants may experience technical issues.
- While robust security measures should be in place (e.g. HTTPS, password protection, etc.), security issues will always be a concern with methods that leverage online data capturing.
- There’s no way for moderators to capture non-verbal responses.
- Participants may get busy, distracted, or just become bored and stop participating.
- Despite the presence of a well-trained moderator, participants may nevertheless make inappropriate comments (note: all comment/responses should be approved before being posted, but participants may get offended if they feel they are being censored, and may drop out as a result).
- There is no way for moderators to know if a participant is the same person from beginning to end (note: this is not an “identity theft” issue, it is just that in some households or workplaces, participants may engage in tandem because it is convenient to do so).
- Incentives may skew results and compel participants to say what it believes a moderator/company wants to hear vs. what they really believe (note: this is a challenge with many types of data gathering techniques, and not specific to bulletin board focus groups).
Should You Use Bulletin Board Focus Groups?
The answer to this question is “it depends.” In some cases, it may be valid to use this approach in conjunction with others. In other cases, it may not be practical or feasible.
The important takeaway is that exploring the viability of bulletin board focus groups should be part of the work that your market research firm undertakes. If they recommend this approach, they should provide you with objective reasons why. The same applies if they suggest that you reject it.
If they do not recommend or reject the approach, ask about it! Your market research agency should be exploring all possible methodologies on your behalf. If you think a bulletin board focus group could bring market research insights to your business, your agency should be able to tell you their reasoning for using it or not using it.
To learn more about bulletin board focus groups, and other methods of online and offline qualitative data gathering, contact the Communications For Research team today. While learning more about your business, we’ll be able to see whether CFR can help your business reach its goals. If we are considered for a partnership, we’d be happy to explain whether bulletin board focus groups should be fit into the master plan.