Moderating an online bulletin board focus group (BBFG) is easier than moderating a face to face group (F2FG) and this creates new opportunities for the market research practitioner.
Why is it easier?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, there is more time in a BBFG than in a F2FG, so you don’t have to think on your feet to the same extent. Secondly, on a BBFG the moderator has fewer tasks, especially in terms of managing participants.
For example, in a F2FG time can really only be used by one person at a time, and therefore the moderator must try to ensure that all participants get a reasonable share. With a BBFG this is not a concern, because the act of one participant answering does not prevent others from doing so.
And there are other reasons. For instance, you don’t have to worry about participants getting bored or needing refreshments. There is also more flexibility on timings, because you can run over on a BBFG.
What does this mean?
Because it is easier to moderate a BBFG than a F2FG this means it can require a lower level of experience. So one might argue that so long as the discussion guide is comprehensive and clear, and an experienced researcher is managing the process, then the moderation of a BBFG could be undertaken by (or shared with) someone with relatively little experience. By this we mean the actual typing in of questions, responding to participants, and so on.
We appreciate that moderating is much more than just asking questions, and that the managing researcher may have particular techniques that they wish to be used. However, this can be achieved through them managing or sharing the moderation, and planning thoroughly in advance.
This in turn means that the experienced research practitioner could manage more projects at any one time. For example, whilst international studies require an experienced moderator in each location if conducted F2F, if they are run as BBFGs then just one experienced “managing” researcher can run the whole project, supported by an assistant for each country.
Moreover, these assistants could potentially be in the same location as the managing researcher, saving further administration time and cost compared to F2FGs, and increasing the closeness of the managing researcher to the research in each country.
Opportunity for researchers
So, if research practitioners incorporate BBFGs into their repertoire not only will they be increasing their capacity, but also offering a methodology to their clients that could be more appropriate than a F2F approach in certain situations.
And the good news is that developing a BBFG offering is just a small step for the experienced qualitative researcher, mainly involving learning how to use one of the specialist online qualitative software platforms. That’s one of the great strengths of BBFGs. They still involve the classical skills of the researcher. It’s just that the discussion takes place via the written word rather than the spoken word.