5 Essentials For Effective Focus Groups

While it may seem like an old technique, focus groups are still effective for gauging public relations successes and failures. But, focus groups aren’t as simple as sitting in a room with strangers and asking questions. To maximize your chance of gathering valuable and trustworthy information, there are several best practices that should be followed. Here are five essential tips for hosting an effective focus group.

Select focus group participants strategically

When selecting participants for your focus group, make sure to consider all of your target audiences, as well as personality types that may clash. For a Nichols Brand Stories project, we identified four target audiences and planned a focus group for each. This strategy helped us explore what mattered most to each constituency. In another rebranding study, we divided focus-group participants into two sets; more extroverted talkers met together, while shyer introverts had their own group. This ensured everyone had an opportunity to be heard and the information gathered was representative of all targeted audiences.

Keep groups small

In our experience, focus groups ideally should have an odd number of participants — no less than five and no more than 11. Groups in this range are easier to keep on topic and on task. Larger groups often devolve into arguments or lead to certain individuals talking much more than others.

Choose an experienced moderator

Group facilitators must have the skills to listen carefully while actively managing group dynamics. Moderators should remain neutral and avoid swaying the conversation in any direction. Moderators must be very knowledgeable about key issues facing the client, and should encourage participants to candidly discuss those issues.

Record the conversation

For accuracy in reporting, always record focus groups. Openly discuss with participants how the recording will be used. Decide in advance who will be permitted to review the recordings — the researchers only or the client organization also — and disclose this decision to focus-group participants before the session begins.

Understand the limits

Focus groups help you investigate problems, explore ideas, and ask the right questions — but they don’t provide hard data. Focus groups reveal what participants think, not what entire target audiences think. Key issues can be identified through focus groups, but solutions should always be tested through more quantitative research methods, such as surveys.

Focus groups are an important step in market research, but they need to be managed properly. When used correctly, focus groups provide valuable information and insight which can be used to inform public relations strategies. Focus groups can help you identify an impending PR crisis, or can supercharge your social media efforts

Are you planning a market-research study or need to dive deeper into your PR needs? Let’s talk about how focus groups might benefit your project. Email me anytime at mbakle@WeTellYourStory.com to start a conversation now.