5 Tips For Moderating Online Focus Groups


Share on LinkedIn

Being an insightful moderator in an online focus group is both a science and an art. The moderator sets the tone for the research, and is a key asset in unlocking insights. But what are the keys for success in moderating a focus group?

Whether online or in-person, here are a few things to keep in mind when building a conversation.

Crafting The Conversation

Designing a discussion comes in two phases. First, the moderator (or team) comes up with the structure of the focus group. This can come from things like time allotted, a number of questions, or collecting an optimal range of respondents.

After you establish the framework for the discussion, then the writing comes in. Optimizing your market research will come directly from the questions you’re asking respondents. Better questions make for better insights.

1. Know The Discussion Guide Inside and Out

Before the conversation even begins, be sure to take a step back from the discussion. Work with your team to identify answers to the following questions.

What insights am I trying to uncover in this session?
What do my respondents bring to the table that I’m looking for?
Do the questions feel cohesive?

Pacing is crucial in moderating focus groups. Ideally, the questions follow a linear, cohesive model, each question working to identify specific insights. Make sure to understand the difference between closed-ended and open-ended questions, and avoid double-barrelled questions. If you lose track of time during the discussion, you may lose out on opportunities to pull your data together.

You may make adjustments to the discussion guide during the conversation. For example, any unexpected answers from certain respondents can call for additional probing to get more accurate insights. Being familiar with the discussion guide will make it easier to account for any unexpected detours in the discussion.

2. Be Relatable to Participants

Remember that the goal of the moderator is to create a conversation, not an interrogation. The best moderators match the tone of the respondents. For example, a discussion guide built for an internal product review might be a bit more informal than a customer feedback focus group.

Being relatable to your respondents will work to establish a comfortable, relaxed environment. Consumers will then be more likely to generate honest, complete responses. Hopefully, this will optimize your data for the post-analysis piece of your research.

Relating to your respondents depends entirely on the sample. On a case-by-case basis, you’ll have respondents that share similar traits, or other cases where the sample is pulled at random. This limits the extent to which the moderator will be able to read the room, although this should still be a focus point for moderating the discussion.

3. Listen to Participants

The first instinct for your respondents won’t always be the best representation of their final thought or opinion. Give your respondents time to think about the answers they’re providing. In an in-person focus group, this means being mindful of the entire sample, and reading the room to gauge an optimal time frame to continue. This is also an excellent opportunity for customer segmentation.

As one of the benefits for online focus groups, you’ll be able to pre-determine the amount of time allotted for each question. This can be a benefit to crafting your discussion guide, although the ideal moderator will be able to speed up or slow down the conversation with any unexpected detours.

4. Know When to Dive Deeper

Remember the reasons you’ve created this focus group to begin with: research. Although important to stay on track with the questions you’ve prepared, don’t be afraid to follow the conversation as it evolves.

If you’re left unclear on a question or anything that might blur your analysis, take the initiative to dive deeper into that particular topic.

Writing Discussion Guide Questions

Once the discussion is built, the moderator (and team) will be ready to start writing the questions.

5. Use simple language

You want to leave your respondents with little to no room for interpretation. Your answers will be skewed if the questions can mean different things to different people. But how can you minimize the chances of misinterpretation?

As a general rule of thumb, use simple language. Along with the questions themselves, use simple language when explaining how this focus group is impacting your research. By being transparent with your respondents about how their answers will be used for improving a product or experience, they will be more likely to give you more complete, thoughtful responses.

Next Steps in Moderating an Online Focus Group

While a discussion guide can prepare you for a study, it doesn’t allow you to read a customer’s mind. Combined with background information from secondary data, however, you can create a discussion guide that clearly walks participants through industry trends, perceptions of products, perceptions of competitors, consumer behaviors and preferences, mergers and acquisitions, onboarding processes, and so much more.

Emily Smith
Emily is the Content Director at Remesh, where she spends most of her time spinning data in stories.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here