One great advantage of online focus groups (of the bulletin board variety) is the ability to run a pilot study. That’s because a pilot gives a range of benefits, whilst adding no extra cost or work, and no delay.
How a pilot works
A pilot simply involves a small number of participants answering the researcher’s discussion guide questions a day or so in advance of the other participants. This can happen even whilst other participants are being recruited and then registering for the research.
The benefits of a pilot
One benefit is that the answers to a pilot can stimulate further thinking by the researcher or client, and lead to them deciding to add new questions to the discussion guide.
Another is that a pilot will reveal whether participants understand, interpret and answer the questions in the way the researcher intended. If they do not do so then the researcher can re-word the questions before the main fieldwork. This can be particularly useful on multi-market projects, in which different languages are involved.
Lastly, another benefit is that a pilot will show whether participants can answer all the questions fully in the available time. If they cannot do so then the researcher may wish to re-order the discussion guide, remove some questions (and possibly add them to the recruitment questionnaire), or make some question closed (rather than open-ended).
No extra time
Curiously, a pilot does not add any time to an online qualitative study. It does mean that the main fieldwork begins a day or so later than would otherwise be the case. However this is more than offset by the reduced need for probing by the moderator (and the time that this involves).
A pilot study does involve the researcher, and potentially the client, spending a little time looking at the answers of the first few participants. However, this is worthwhile because the rewards are in the results.