Focus groups are a qualitative measure of observation. Qualitative research is when only a few cases are examined, but in great detail. The popularity of focus groups in public relations research is growing. Focus groups are led by a moderator and involve less than 20 participants. Participants are usually picked because of characteristics that are possessed. Before the focus group is held, participants are given a screening questionnaire to insure the qualifications. The moderator has open-ended questions and suggested topics prepared. The prepared items are intended to get the group to discuss opinions of the focus topic. A session can last a few hours and be held almost anywhere. It is best to hold a session in a research facility where the discussion can be monitored. The facility may also support audio and video recording capabilities.
Focus groups have several advantages. A major advantage is that they are quick. It can be put together fast, it is short in length and the data can be analyzed quickly. Another advantage is focus groups are inexpensive. Price can vary depending on moderator fees, participants' fees and facility fees, but a focus group can normally be conducted for less than $1,000. A final advantage is the data provided by the participants. Issues may come up that were not anticipated by the moderator.
However, focus groups are not representative of populations because of the small sample. The spiral of silence is another weakness of focus groups. If one participant is dominant, others in the group might not speak up. The moderator can correct this problem by asking the views of the other participants.
There are 16 steps to conducting a focus group: