How Do Focus Groups Work? A Participant’s Perspective

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Are you thinking about participating in a focus group?

If so, you’re probably wondering how they work, how to prepare, and what you can expect before, during, and after—among other things.

Here’s everything you need to know about focus groups from a participant’s perspective.

What Exactly Is a Focus Group?

A focus group otherwise referred to as a market research group, is essentially a controlled interview involving several participants. Those participants typically fit the description of the target audience of the company that is conducting the focus group.

Depending on the topic of the focus group and their experience level, there will be anywhere from five to 10 participants. The participants are selected based on specific predetermined criteria, including their location, age range, socioeconomic status, and interests, to name a few.

The purpose of putting together a focus group is to get an idea of the typical consumer’s feelings, impressions, and opinions on a certain product or service about to enter the market.

Generally speaking, focus groups have an advantage over other types of market research for several reasons. They’re flexible and they focus on qualitative data that’s gathered through human interaction and discussion around the product or service being offered.

This gives market research companies actionable insight into more than just whether or not a product or service is well-liked. It demonstrates actual brand knowledge among an audience and it virtually provides a “dry-run” for what companies can expect once they release their newest innovation to the public.

How a Focus Group Works

Since the purpose of putting together a focus group is to identify what the typical customer’s feelings, first impression, and perception are, the market researchers are responsible for putting together individuals who fall within the realm of their target audience.

Therefore, you will be a part of a rather specific demographic, and you can expect to take part in a discussion about the products or services being presented to you. These discussions are typically held in an open environment, and you’re encouraged to interact with other individuals about their perceptions and ideas regarding the products or services.

This is actually the fun part, and you’ll be encouraged to expand on your thoughts and be completely honest. However, you’ll never be forced to give more than you want to give in a session and you’ll never be encouraged to lie and pretend you like something.

To get the discussion started, the research group moderator will start asking questions. He or she will continue to ask questions as a means of getting everyone to expand on their thoughts and feelings. While you’re encouraged to ask questions about the product or service in front of you, your group isn’t expected to arrive at a “conclusion” or come to a consensus.

You’re only expected to discuss.

Depending on the topic of the focus group, you can expect the session to last anywhere from one to two hours. There is a chance that the group can exceed that time frame, but that only happens when there’s extensive research questioning involved. Sometimes the study will continue for weeks, where you may be asked to check in on a bulletin board weekly for example.

Before the questioning begins, you can expect to be introduced to the other participants via an icebreaker exercise. This is to get everyone acquainted and comfortable with one another since you’ll all be expected to feed off each other’s ideas.

Additionally, you can expect the focus group session to be recorded using both sound and video. In some cases, the company behind the product or service will watch the discussion session from behind a screen or mirrored wall. Don’t worry, you’ll be notified of who’s watching and from where.

Preparing for a Focus Group

The only thing you’ll be required to do when it comes to meeting with your focus group is show up.

You’ll want to plan to arrive 15-20 minutes early at the location provided. This could be at the market research company’s office, a supermarket, a shop, or wherever else the company may choose. If you’re running late, all you have to do is contact someone from the research team—so it’s important to have their information handy.

If you’re participating in the focus group online, you may have to download specific software that allows you to be a part of the group in real-time. All the necessary information about using the software and what is required will be given to you by the market research group.

The only other things you’ll need is a strong internet connection, a webcam, and microphone.

What Happens Next?

Once the session ends, you’ll likely get paid right away. Most focus groups will pay you in cash. However, if you’re getting paid by check or direct deposit, you’ll have been notified in your information package upon being selected to participate.

It’s that simple!

However—and this is important—you won’t be permitted to discuss your focus group experience with anyone once the session ends. As part of your information packet, you’ll have to sign a confidentiality agreement to participate.

How Do You Become Part of a Focus Group?

When it comes to becoming part of a focus group, the process is largely voluntary. However, just because you volunteer doesn’t mean you’ll get selected to participate.

As mentioned earlier, focus groups range in size. There’s also a pre-screening process to ensure that you meet the specific company’s criteria. Whether or not you are chosen may or may not be based on the following:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status/pre-income tax bracket
  • Knowledge of the company or brand
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Job description/expertise
  • Hobbies
  • Experience with similar products or services
  • etc.

Each market research group will have its own specific criteria for putting together a focus group. So, if you don’t get selected, it’s not because you did anything wrong—you just don’t meet the requirements of their target audience.

How Often Can You Participate in Focus Groups?

Technically, you can participate in focus groups however many times you’re selected to participate. However, some companies have a rule that no single individual can participate in a focus group more than once every six months.

It all depends on the company in question and whether or not you’re selected.

Find Your Focus Group

Focus groups are a fun and interesting way to make a few extra bucks. However, they do require active participation since their goal is to provide feedback on a specific product or service before it hits the market.

When a focus group session is successful, the marketing research group and company behind the product or service will gain valuable insight into their target audience, and you in turn get paid to provide that insight. It’s a win-win!

Now that you know how focus groups work and what to expect, why not jump in and apply? Start browsing active studies here

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