How to Run a Focus Group (From A to Z)

Andrei Cucleschin, 27 August 2019

How to Run a Focus Group

Are you conducting social or marketing research? Want to gain more in-depth knowledge of the subject you’re researching? 

Then it’s very likely that you need to organize a focus group.

What is a Focus Group?

A focus group is a form of qualitative research, that revolves around a group discussion or a group interview. Usually the moderator asks questions to participants to assess their perceptions or beliefs about a certain feature of product/ service, brand, idea etc…

There are 3 phases involved in organizing a focus group: planning, on-the-spot and analysis.

Let’s discuss each of them one by one.

Planning Phase of a Focus Group

1 Pick a single narrow topic

Focus groups have the word “focus” for a reason. In general, you don’t want to go too broad.

Choose one specific subject and try to come up with relevant questions.

So, instead of asking a lot of different questions about your product/ service – focus on 1 thing.

It can be user experience, brand identity or anything else.

2 Recruit 6-10 participants

How many participants a focus group should have? We suggest keeping the group size small. The higher number of people goes hand in hand with increased coordination difficulties. The ideal group size is about 6 people.

3 Make sure your group is diverse

You want to make sure that you hear opinions of different people.

You’ll likely want your group members to differ in:

  • Age
  • National/cultural background
  • Income
  • Gender
  • Interests

Now that you know the scope of your study, it’s time to approach people.

You can do it by uploading a post on social media, calling for participation in your focus group.

You can also reach out to people individually via email or social media channels.

4 Provide extra incentives for participants

Improving your product/service alone is not that strong of a motivation for most consumers. Usually people would be more inclined to participate in a focus group if they’re offered something in return. It can be a voucher, a gift card or just some cash.

5 Focus groups are meant for research, not PR

Don’t try to show your company in good light or promote any of your products.

Focus groups are made for collecting honest feedback, not for improving your corporate image.

Moreover, if you’re leading the discussion – you should stay neutral, you don’t want to bias people towards positive or negative responses.

6 Choose qualitative research methods – interviews/ discussions. Not surveys.

Might sound obvious, but let’s recap it anyway. Focus groups are conducted with a small population sample, but their discussion format allows to obtain detailed information.

As such, you should only use qualitative research methods.

There is no need to prepare questionnaires or use any methods of statistical analysis.

On-the-Spot Phase of a Focus Group

7 Do an ice-breaking exercise

A lot of people will likely be shy to speak up. That’s why it’s your responsibility to create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.

You can do so by doing an ice-breaking exercise.

Example: ask people about their lives. Where have they been travelling on holidays last time? Do they have any pets? What’s their favorite meal?

Alternatively, you can offer free drinks & snacks. We heard that helps!

8 Lead the discussion. 

When moderating the focus group session, don’t forget that you’re the conversation leader. Here are some things you should take into account:

  • Don’t let one person speak for too long, keep it consistent
  • Encourage people to share their opinions freely, even if they’re shy
  • Keep in mind the structure/ question list you’ve made before the focus group. Don’t switch topics too often or too quickly. Nevertheless, you want to change the subject as soon as it’s saturated (no one has anything to add).

9 Ask open questions

Compare these 2 dialogs:

Example 1: Do you like product X?

Example 2: Which features of product X are particularly important to you and why?

Open questions (such as the one in Example 2) will help you to obtain richer insights.

Avoid asking “yes or no” questions, because the only answer you’ll ever hear is either “yes” or “no”!

10 Different opinions should be encouraged

Focus group is a discussion. You’re not trying to reach consensus or find a point that everyone would agree on.

On the contrary, you want to observe the contrast in people’s opinions.

Even if all of your participants have different viewpoints – don’t make an argument out of it, simply accept it and try to understand what makes them think this way.

11 Approach focus groups with creativity

If you want, you can come up with different ideas on how to engage people, instead of asking them direct questions.

For instance, you could:

  • Ask participants to draw an image that pops up in their mind when they think about your brand
  • Play an associative game. You tell them words – they have to tell you their associations

You can think of any creative tasks that would engage your participants and generate interesting insights for you.

12 Keep the length of the meeting around 1-2 hours

Try not to tire your participants. After an hour or two, we all get tired and are no longer willing to give saturated answers.

13 Record everything

For a focus group, recording is a “must”.

You want to be able to come back and look at every individual answer.

Moreover, you’ll likely have to report your findings.

You’ll also be surprised at the amount of details you get when you record a discussion. Tone of voice is one of them.

P.s – don’t forget to inform participants that you’re recording their answers.

P.s.s – we personally recommend to only record audio. Having a video camera may be interrogating for a lot of people and will most likely lead to short, shy (sometimes even dishonest) responses.

If there are details, such as body language that you want to be documented – ask your assistant to take notes on the way.

Analysis Phase of a Focus Group

14 Transcribe your recording with AmberScript 

Next, you want your findings to be documented in written form.

The easiest way to do it is by using Speech Recognition Software, like Amberscript.

Upload your file, make some quick adjustments and export.

Having a transcript simplifies data analysis and makes it easy to share the output with your team.

15 Analyze your data and report it.

Now that you have your transcript – prepare a report out of it. The exact style and layout of your report depends on your needs and preferences. In most cases, the following structure works quite well:

  • The main subject of a focus group and how it was investigated (A list of questions you asked).
  • Key patterns and generalizations you’ve discovered (What were the things everyone agreed on, what problem/ aspect was reported by most participants etc).
  • Look at outliers. Which opinions and beliefs stood out? How are they different from the rest? Would you consider them reliable?
  • Compare the outcomes with your initial expectations.

We hope that you are ready for your focus group now!

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