This is the text as it appeared in Marketing News, March 3, 1997
|The use and overall popularity of the Internet, as well as attampts to use the medium to collect market research data, will continue to grow dramatically.||Claims of Conducting focus groups on the Internet show a complete lack of understanding of why properly conducted groups can be effective in collecting information.||More companies will try to use the chat format on the Net to conduct qualitative research. But chats are not focus groups. To call them such is technically incorrect and denigrates this research methodology.|
In the 1990's, we have seen the emergence of two very important trends that will have long- lasting effects on how products and services are sold to the public.
Focus group research, which has been used broadly since the 1960's, seems to have surfaced as an even more important marketing tool in the 1990's as virtually every type of industry has begun to adopt it as a primary tool to evaluate the attitudes of customers and prospects.
At the same time, the 1990's has seen the emergence of the Internet, with access now available to millions of people worldwide. Most business, government, educational, and non-profit entities have their own Web sites that provide information or sell products or services.
The Internet has become such a part of the American society that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that probably will set standards for what can and cannot be communicated on the Internet, at least in the U.S.
In recent months, there has been some advertising and direct mail solicitation by market research companies offering to conduct focus groups on the Internet. The offers say that this represents a much less expensive and quicker way to implement qualitative research.
If organizations want to provide qualitative research services using the Internet, there is no reason why this cannot become a part of the research arsenal. But this type of research must not be called focus groups because on-line chat sessions lack some of the most important elements of focus group research.
- Group Dynamics - One of the key reasons to use focus groups is to benefit from the interactions between the group participants, as this can provide excellent insights. In cyberspace, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to create any real group dynamics, particularly when the participants are reading from the computer screens rather than interacting verbally.
- Non-Verbal Input - Experienced moderators will use nonverbal input from the participants while moderating and analyzing sessions. It is not possible to duplicate the nonverbal input in an on-line environment.
- Client Involvement - Many organizations use the focus group methodology because it gives management an opportunity to have some direct interface with consumers in an objective environment. Nothing can replace the impact of watching focus groups from behind the one-way mirror, no matter how good the videotapes, remote broadcast facilities, or reports written by moderators. With on-line focus groups, the client personnel only can watch responses from a computer screen.
- Security - When conducting focus groups, you know who is in the room, assuming appropriate screening has been conducted. With on-line groups, there is no way to be sure who is sitting behind the computer. If you cannot see the person, how do you know who he or she really is?
- Attention To The Topic - One of the benefits of the focus group process is that the participants in the group understand that they are expected to stay in the room for the full two hours of the session and contribute to the discussion. It is very difficult for a participant in a well-moderated focus group to do something that could detract him or her from the proceedings. However, in an on-line environment, the moderator never knows if the participants are watching TV, reading a book or eating dinner while the session is happening.
- Exposure To External Stimuli - A key use of focus groups is to present advertising copy, new product concepts, prototypes or other stimuli to the participants in order to get their reactions. In an on-line chat situation, it is almost impossible to duplicate the live focus group environment relative to the participant exposure to external stimuli. As a result, you have to wonder whether the input received is as valuable as it would be in a live environment.
- Role & Skill Of The Moderator - Most marketing professionals agree that the most important factor of the quality of focus group research is the skill of the moderator. Experienced moderators have developed techniques that involve more than simply asking questions of participants. A good moderator understands ways to draw out quiet or shy participants, energize a slow group, and use innovative techniques that will delve a little deeper in the minds of the participants. The innovative techniques available to the moderator sitting behind the computer screen are much more limited.
- Send e-Mail to Groups Plus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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