There’s no question that technology has made a significant impact on market research. Digitalizing tasks has enabled researchers to develop business insights faster and more comprehensively than ever before.
These changes have naturally caused a shift in the market research process and, more specifically, in focus groups. Traditional, face-to-face discussions have transitioned to an online space with the help of the internet.
In this regard, two kinds of methodologies have emerged from online focus groups – webcam and text-based. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but which one is best for you?
Video vs. Text
To showcase the pros and cons of each kind, we’ll be describing webcam and text-based focus groups based on four categories: Communication, Seamlessness, Privacy, and Equipment.
Webcam Focus Groups
Due to its on-camera characteristic, a webcam focus group is the closest online alternative to an in-person discussion. Unlike text-based groups, webcams can capture subtle nuances such as body language and facial expressions.
As a result, this enables moderators to pick up on unspoken feelings or issues that participants may have. Also, these groups require participants to take turns speaking to avoid any overlapping dialogues during the session.
Because webcam groups are recording and streaming based, they heavily rely on high internet speeds to avoid technical glitches. Having no proper tech support and poor connectivity disrupts the flow of discussions due to longer loading times between stimuli, unexpected drop-offs, and buffered sounds.
These issues are severely detrimental to the overall quality of the recording because respondents may not be able to give proper feedback.
One of the biggest advantages of online focus groups is that it gives respondents a sense of anonymity during the session. However, the on-cam aspect of webcam discussions still provides a degree of exposure that some participants wouldn’t be comfortable with.
Similar to how some people are hesitant to express their feelings in a room full of strangers, not everyone is eager to show their face on camera – even if they are hidden behind a screen.
Aside from a stable internet connection, researchers must ensure that every participant has access to a functioning webcam. Alternatively, remote participants may also use mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets to join the webcam focus group, provided they have a strong wifi connection or are willing to use their data allowance.
Text-Based Focus Groups
In comparison to video (video chat support), text responses have the potential to be less informative. This is because you won’t be able to observe respondents’ non-verbal cues during the session. As a result, this could lead to more one-dimensional feedback that lacks the depth needed when collecting qualitative data.
To combat the non-visual aspect of this method, researchers may instruct respondents to add emoticons or emojis to their answers as an additional way for them to express their feelings.
Text-based discussions are easier to manage because they require significantly less data than a webcam call. In these discussions, you rely on participants being able to answer questions, bounce ideas off of each other, and give feedback by quickly typing out their responses.
By guiding the flow of conversation and encouraging respondents to provide as much detail in their responses, moderators can gather a wealth of information from these focus groups.
The main advantage of this method is that group members can anonymously communicate their thoughts and feelings. By not showing their faces on camera, this method can cause respondents to break down their barriers and express their opinions freely – resulting in more open and candid discussions.
This sense of anonymity also has the added benefit of reducing bias within the group, as people are less pressured to agree to a single sentiment.
Participants will have no problem joining a text-based focus group because devices capable of delivering text responses are easily accessible. Furthermore, this type of focus group only requires devices to have minimal data allowance to function properly.
Which One Should I Choose?
The best online focus group method for you will depend on a few things:
The topic of discussion
- Is your topic taboo or sensitive (e.g., religion, politics, mental health) in nature?
- Will participants be comfortable discussing this subject on camera?
Some participants may hesitate to answer in a webcam focus group because they don’t feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics with people unfamiliar to them.
The demographic of your participants
- Are they younger or older?
- Are they tech-savvy and know how to operate recording equipment (e.g., webcam, speaker, microphones)?
Webcam discussions are ideal for a younger, tech-savvy demographic, while older generations may prefer a text-based focus group because they require less technical skill.
Your research objectives
- Are you doing a product test?
- Does your project require you to observe your participants?
Webcam focus groups are preferable over text-based conversations if you want to gather UX insights by observing how customers use or maneuver a product.
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