The Pros and Cons of Online Focus Groups
17 Jun 2020

An Online Focus Group is a type of qualitative research. The methodology is especially beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it provides a contactless way to conduct exploratory research. However, this methodology has its advantages and disadvantages. 


Closest Online Equivalent 

Online focus groups are the closest online equivalent to in-person focus groups. While the fundamentals of in-person focus groups are getting a group of people in a room with a moderator leading a discussion. The fundamentals of online focus groups are the same – a group of people and a moderator leading a discussion. 

Lower Cost

Online focus groups are a lower-cost alternative to in-person focus groups. One of the significant expenses of focus groups is facility rental and travel. Without needing to be in-person, there is no need for a facility and no need for travel. Travel for the moderator and the observers can add up as you need to pay for a hotel, airfare, car service, and meal cost. 

Increase Efficiency

In-person focus groups take longer because of the travel involved. For in-person focus groups, the researchers, moderators, and stakeholders all travel to the focus groups’ location. The participants will be locally recruited and have to go to the facility (by car or public transport). Online focus groups are much more efficient – researchers, moderators, stakeholders, and participants can all partake from their home or an office. 

Geographical Independency

When choosing to conduct in-person focus groups, the researchers and stakeholders have to select a few cities that they can feasibly travel to and will have a population of their target audience to recruit. This (somewhat arbitrary) selection means that the insights are gathered from these specific cities’ residents, leaving out any randomness of the sample. Online focus groups allow for research to be conducted nationwide or globally – depending on the brand’s target. 

Deeper Insights

This pro is not guaranteed, but there is an argument that participants are more comfortable when they are at home and will give more honest and open responses. Any factors like being in a focus group facility or being in-person with other participants may be intimidating and lead to some participants remaining silent out of the picture. 


Technical Difficulties

Participants are often using new technology when joining online focus groups. This learning curve can lead to trouble downloading the software, signing in, or getting set up. As a result, it is vital to have technical support for all participants when entering the session. It is also often advised to incentivize early log on times – this means that participants will be more willing to join the group early, and iron out any kinks with the technology. 

Internet Instability

While we do live in 2020 and internet speed is rapid, there can always be instability. This fluctuation can lead to participants or the moderator cutting out mid-sentence. It is another reason that tech support needs to be present for the entirety of the session. If this happens, tech support can try to help get the person re-connected. 

The other issue that slow or unstable internet can cause is long lag times. Sometimes the video will be moving, but there is no sound or vice versa. This is not as severe of an issue; however, it can make transitions difficult and often leads to people speaking over one another. The moderator can think that someone has stopped talking when in reality, the video or audio just lagged. 


In contrast to participants being more comfortable at home, there are often many more distractions for participants when they are online. They are signing in from their house. While we ask them to remove any distraction, there can still be a family member or a pet that can interrupt their train of thought or make them have to step away from their computer for a moment. 


While these are the pros and cons of online focus groups, at Provoke Insights, we believe in looking at each business need/objective individually and deciding on a case-by-case basis the best methodology for the specific research requirement. 

Another excellent alternative to in-person focus groups is AI focus groups. It is a live chat session between a moderator and participants, but it allows for up to 100 participants and includes a voting system that will enable participants to agree or disagree with each other quantitatively. Make sure to assess all of the options before deciding to invest in research.

If your company is interested in content marketing research, please reach out to [email protected], and we will be happy to schedule a call to discuss the research objectives with you.

In addition, check out Provoke Insights research services here.

Read some of our recent case studies and blogs here:

  1. NPS: An Explanation & Its Importance
  2. COVID-19 and Conducting Market Research
  3. Sunpower: An NPS and Competitive Assessment Study


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