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focus group

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A focus group is a small and typically diverse panel of people selected to survey for their opinions on a given subject. Focus groups are used to test the public response to a wide variety of subjects, including marketing, research, products, services, entertainment, propaganda and policies. Data gathered is considered a population sampling and used to predict a wider public response on the desired subject.

Researchers in marketing and product development have used focus groups to test new products and anticipate the general public’s reception. Participation is often paid. Many websites, advertisements and other online venues offer visitors paid focus group positions.

Today, social media listening is often used in place of traditional focus groups. Consumers regularly react to and comment on products and design, essentially serving as an unpaid focus group with a much larger sample size. Benefits include cost savings, plus the speed and immediacy of gathering data and applying text analysis. With over 1 billion active users, Facebook could be considered the world’s largest focus group, with Twitter not far behind. However, paid members of traditional focus groups may be more likely to make useful comments because they are motivated and know constructive and helpful opinions are expected of them.

Social media sampling can provide a greater volume of data due to the sheer numbers of users – as long as people are talking about a given subject. However, because commenting is voluntary, researchers may not get the volume of responses required for analysis if a subject is not on people’s minds. Nevertheless, because social media users aren’t necessarily thinking about anyone paying attention to their comments, they may provide more honest feedback.

The use of focus groups can be traced back as far as 1939-1945 when it was used to test WWII propaganda. The term focus group was coined by Ernest Dichter, a psychologist and marketing expert.

This was last updated in July 2017

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