Social Media versus Focus Groups for Qualitative Research

Social media research tools have similar functionality to social media sites. This article explores the differences between social media research tools and traditional focus groups.

Social media research tools have similar functionality to social media sites. This article explores the differences between social media research tools and traditional focus groups.


Social media research tools offer an innovative way to conduct market research that follows communications trends in society. More and more consumers and professionals are using sites like FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter to interact with each other, share ideas, and vent their complaints. Market researchers can take advantage of these trends by using social media research tools, like Rockbridge's OpinionPond™ to gain insights.

Social media research tools mirror the functionality of social media sites, offering a graphic intensive environment that allows participants to become part of a community and interact with researchers and other community members. This is in contrast to the focus group methodology which consists of a facilitated discussion between a professional moderator and a panel of respondents (typically, 8 to 10).


Do social media research tools produce better results than traditional focus groups?

Our recent experience with our new research application, OpinionPond™ has revealed a number of benefits to the social media format over traditional focus groups; however, the choice of methodology always depends on the objectives of the research, and we still use focus groups for many engagements.

Here are some of the benefits to using social media research tools like OpinionPond™:


Talking to customers when they are thinking about you.

Unlike focus groups that have to be scheduled at a particular point in time, OpinionPond™ can be implemented to capture insights from customers who have just interacted with your product or service. This means more thoughtful responses, as customers remember the experience and new ideas are stimulated based on that experience. For example, recently Rockbridge invited online purchasers of our client's product immediately after they completed a transaction to participate in OpinionPond™. Given the recency of the experience, participants were able to offer thoughtful feedback, and our client gained new ideas to help shoppers during the purchase process that they had not heard before because customers had just experienced a real purchase situation. The client is currently conducting a feasibility study of the product ideas to determine how they might implement them.


Getting a larger sample size at a lower cost and achieving similar insights.

OpinionPond™ can also deliver respondents at less cost than recruiting the same number of participants for a focus group project. The results are similar too. We recruited 55 participants to OpinionPond™ for a recent study and yielded strikingly similar results to a large scale in-person qualitative effort conducted by our client on the same topics.


Capturing rich data.

Participants in OpinionPond™ offer thoughtful and detailed responses to the topics. While it may vary by topic and market, respondents in OpinionPond™ also tend to comment on all topics listed, even when only a sweepstakes incentive is provided. Using some creativity, we have found participants will come back multiple times to respond to newly posted topics, as well as see what others are saying about their comments. Additionally, OpinionPond™ is designed to link data from the Pond to a quantitative survey, which allows additional in-depth analysis by groups of interest.


Maintaining control using OpinionPond™.

Similar to focus groups, clients can observe the discussion and make comments to the moderator. If the client wants a more active role, they can also ask questions and make comments directly in the discussion on OpinionPond™.


When should you use social media research tools like OpinionPond™?

Our clients consider several applications for OpinionPond™ to address their research agenda. OpinionPond™ can be used for all of the following:

  • For follow-up questions that require more discussion after a structured survey is completed. OpinionPond™ provides richer data than open-ended questions in a survey. For example, after a concept test of a new product in a survey, asking respondents about more features or add-ons to the product in OpinionPond™ provides additional information from consumers who are educated about the proposed product from the concept test.
  • After a satisfaction tracking survey to conduct "deep dives" on issues that arise over time
  • A purely qualitative effort to address new product development, attrition, customer satisfaction and loyalty, branding and positioning, or other marketing issues
  • An online community of customers and/or prospects

Rockbridge still conducts focus groups on the web, in-person and by phone. Focus groups have certain advantages including: allowing clients to observe behind a mirror in real time; the ability to implement complex probing procedures such as laddering; and the ability to control the interview process such as rolling out different aspects of an ad campaign or product concept in stages.

Social media research tools like OpinionPond™ offer an innovative approach to providing rich qualitative insights to your marketing teams, so they are worth considering instead of traditional focus groups. If you would like to experience OpinionPond™ and/or get more information about our innovative social media research tool, contact: Gina Woodall, SVP at 703-757-5213 ext. 11 or, or Charles Colby, President, at 703.757.5213 ext. 12 or

This content was provided by Rockbridge Associates. Visit their website at

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