How to run an online focus group

The first thing is to choose the type of focus group to run, and we would suggest the Bulletin board focus group, or BBFG. Below we explain why, and how to go about it.A BBFG is run over several days, rather than in real-time via chat or video. I know that a real-time focus group feels like it would be better. It seems like the closest online alternative to a real focus group.

But in practice real-time online groups can be tricky to run, not least in terms of everybody being able to log in, get their audio and webcams working, etc… Then there is the difficulty of moderating, and being able to probe. And all of this is under pressure, whilst the client is looking on.

That aside, we recommend BBFGs not just because of the pitfalls of real-time groups but also because they have their own particular advantages. For example, they give participants more time to think, and they allow for new questions to be added mid research, and for different participants to be asked different questions. So they are more flexible, in other words.

Moreover, with a real-time online group you can only have up to 8 participants, whereas a BBFG can have 4 times as many. This saves time and cost.

What you will need to run a BBFG


You need to recruit some participants to take part in your group. This would usually be anywhere from 10-30 people. These can be recruited using a traditional focus group recruiter, or we can recruit them for you. You may even be able to recruit them yourself, if you have a newsletter subscriber list or Facebook page, for example.

Very often you will want a certain number of males and females, or people of different age groups, for example. Similarly, you may have particular criteria that people must meet in order to take part in your BBFG. This can all be managed by the recruiter, with a briefing from you.

If you would like to discuss recruitment please do just contact me.


We can provide this, or you may prefer to use a different software tool. All the tools vary in price and capabilities. They also vary in terms of support, which can be very important if you are inexperienced in running online groups. Again, do just contact me… if I think you would be better with a different software tool than ours I will say so. There would be no point in me trying to trick you into using ours.

Discussion guide/ Questionnaire

A typical BBFG would last anywhere from 45-60 minutes, spread over 3-4 days. In other words, each day the participants would spend 15-20 minutes answering your questions. You ideally would have designed your discussion guide (or questionnaire) in advance of the group, although you can actually add new questions once the group has started. You can include images or videos to be shown to participants within your discussion guide.


You will need to pay the participants an incentive at the end of the research. A good option for this is Amazon vouchers, because they are easy to administer. Typical incentives are £30-£50, these being paid only to participants who complete the research to the satisfaction of the moderator. It is important to tell participants from the very start (and when they are recruited) that they will not receive any of the incentive if their answers are not sufficiently detailed, in the view of the moderator. Otherwise some may think they can drop out half way through and receive half the incentive.


It takes time to set up and run an online BBFG, and to analyse the results afterwards. So this really should be set aside. During a 3 day BBFG you would not need to be online moderating all day long, but you would ideally log in several times each day or evening, to monitor response rates and reply to participants.


Even if you are running a focus group yourself, usually you would need to pay a fee to recruit the participants, a fee for using the software (the hosting fee), and an incentive to the participants. The recruitment could be in the region of £30-£40 per participant, and the incentive could be in the region of £40-£50 per participant. The hosting fee could be a few hundred pounds (£200 in the case of our software).


How a BBFG works

You begin by uploading the questions from your discussion guide (which you have prepared in Word). Then you recruit the participants and get them registered on the software site for your group. This would generally take a few days.

Once all the participants are registered you begin your research. It may be that you do the recruitment and registration one week, and begin the research the next week. You begin the research by setting the first few of your questions to “live” in the software, and then emailing your participants asking them to log in and answer the questions you have posted.

During the rest of that first day you would log in from time to time to read the answers as they come through. You may want to reply to some of them, if you want clarification or further detail. Later on that first day you may need to email one or two participants if they have not answered the questions, or if their answers are not satisfactory.

On the second and third days you repeat what you did on the first day. This means you set further questions to be “live” and then email the participants to ask them to log in and answer them. You may reply to some participants’ answers, you might even decide to remove and replace one or two participants with new ones, if you feel they are not engaging properly. You may also decide to add some new questions to the discussion guide, to be shown on the third day for example.

At the end of the research you will have a transcript of all the answers, and any files that you have asked participants to upload. You can download all of these to your computer. You then finish by paying the incentives to the participants. And because of GDPR you may decide to delete their answers and contact details (email address) from the BBFG software.


BBFGs can be very successful and elicit a great response. Participants may each write up to 1000 words on average in answer to your questions. This means that if you have 30 participants, for example, you could have a results transcript of up to 30,000 words.


Richard Clark


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