Secrets to Engaging Your Bulletin Board Focus Group

Engagement in a bulletin board focus group can be a tricky thing to gauge. For starters, you can’t see your participants. Plus, you’re not necessarily interacting with your participants in real-time. But those barriers don’t make engagement in a bulletin board focus group any less important–or impossible to achieve.

We talked with veteran qualitative research consultant Liz Van Patten, who runs Consumer Advisory Panels, to find out some of her secrets to engaging participants in a bulletin board focus group.

Manage their expectations from the beginning: Be real when talking up participation. “I tell them it should be engaging and entertaining,” Liz says, but doesn’t try to oversell the experience. “The message is ‘Let’s have fun with this, but I need to hear your sincere answers.'” She also stresses the importance of being truthful about time commitments. She says 30-45 minutes a day equals about 10-12 questions.

Remember, it’s a conversation: Liz starts a bulletin board by greeting each participant individually and asking them to post something about themselves, like where they live. “Then, I’ll comment on that,” she says. Liz explains another secret is to use “I,” instead of “we” (as in the online moderator and the client). “Responses are more open and honest when I talk about myself as an individual,” she says. She also pays attention to how she speaks when having a casual conversation and tries to communicate in a similar way as an online moderator.

Reward desired behavior: “It’s like training a child or a pet,” she says. “You reward behavior that you want to see happen and gently discourage behavior you don’t want to see.” Liz says if she wants participants to interact with each other, she’ll include it in the instructions, but that when she sees someone do it, she’ll deliberately thank them.

Be visual: Liz has found that incorporating visuals into the process helps keep participants engaged. She relies on colors and images of things like sticky notes to draw participants’ attention to certain areas, and she prefers inserting pop-up pages to writing “walls of text.”

Switch up formats: Liz suggests using different techniques to keep participants engaged over longer projects. “One week you might have them do a projective exercise, and the next week they keep a diary,” she says.

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