Here are three features of the online groups that we typically run.
They are usually run over several consecutive days, rather than in real time
This has several practical advantages, for example in the sense that the participants do not all have to be available at exactly the same time. As a result, we can recruit better qualified participants because we have greater choice. We can also replace poorly-engaged participants, even mid way through the research.
In addition, by running groups over a few days, clients can be more involved, for example adding new questions during the course of the research.
It also gives participants the time to fully engage with the research, and to consider their responses to the questions (apart from those for which the moderator has asked for instant, instinctive answers, of course).
Participants cannot see each other’s answers
Whilst it is possible to run groups so that participants can see each other’s answers (either before or after they have posted their own), we find that it is generally better not to do so. This is because the privacy encourages greater honesty by participants (especially on sensitive topics), and prevents them from being influenced by, or simply repeating, what other participants have written.
If the moderator wants participants to comment on each others’ answers to particular questions then this can be done by posting new questions which contain those answers.
Different participants can be asked different questions
It could be the case that you have several different segments of participants within your research group, to which you want to pose different questions. Or it might be that once the group has begun you decide to ask certain questions to particular participants, based on their answers to previous questions. Either way, ultimately you could ask each participant completely different questions, if you wished.
And related to this, the moderator can address different participants in different ways, when emailing or probing. This might be according to their age, for example, or other demographic variables.