What’s Really Going On Behind The Virtual Glass?

Four Tips For Backroom Observers

Online focus groups can provide just as much insight as in-person.

Tips for Online Qualitative

Like its in-person counterpart, an online focus group allows businesses to use a moderator to talk directly to consumers to ask key questions, to show a variety of stimulus types, to capture group interaction, and more. But, in conducting online qualitative, don’t forget the role of, and the importance of being a backroom observer.

The backroom on moderating platforms brings into the digital age the idea of the room behind the one-way mirror of old. Study sponsors and stakeholders can watch the interviews or focus groups in real time, providing the study team with instant access to the moderator and respondents.

Here are four ways to use the backroom as a means to get the most from your qualitative research.

  1. Know your respondents. Prior to the interviews, review the respondents’ profiles. The profiles give information pertinent to why the respondents were selected to participate, demographic information that may be relevant, or other information that may be important to know ahead of time. By reviewing each profile, you will have an important perspective on each participant, and that may help uncover or explain nuances in each respondent’s attitudes and opinions.
  2. Listen intently to collect information. When there are back-to-back interviews scheduled, it’s tempting to listen while responding to emails or otherwise multitasking. Resist that temptation and instead actively listen to the focus groups to engage with what is being said. Some platforms have functionality that lets listeners “tag” or mark spot(s) during the interview. Use that functionality generously. As the client, you know best what will resonate with your internal teams, so mark the spot in the interview when a respondent says something really notable.

    If the platform doesn’t have that functionality, take copious notes. As you hear something important, note the recording time and respondent’s screen name so that it can be found during an internal review of the video. Regardless of the tagging or note-taking method, go back and discuss the notes with the moderator to enrich his understanding of the types of input that are most important to you.
  3. Request additional probing questions. Most backroom platforms have chats or messaging windows to interact with others in the backroom and with the moderator. Moderators usually are not experts in your industry—you are the expert! The moderator wants to hear from you if a respondent says something notable that you’d like to probe further. She is there to guide the discussion so you can obtain the information you need, so when something is critically important, please jump in with those interesting questions sparked by an offhand comment made by a respondent. That unplanned exchange may provide an “aha!” moment for your team.
  4. Strategize on midstream improvements to the discussion guide. Discussion guides are just that—guides to help the moderator direct the focus-group conversations in a way that allows for uncovering hypotheses about your strategic business questions. As you sit in the backroom, listen for good flow and meaningful responses. Good moderators can adapt and adjust to changing a discussion guide. As the expert, you may recognize a hiccup in the flow that can easily be realigned. After sitting in the back listening to the first or second interview, have a debrief with your moderator to make adjustments. Making changes can be an important step in getting to the deeper points that need to be uncovered.

If you are thinking of conducting a qualitative study, ensure that key stakeholders participate in the interview process by engaging in the backroom. Your industry expertise and keen ears will help inform and direct the conversation, which will result in more meaningful insights and direction for your company.


Lesley Johnson

Lesley Johnson

Senior Project Director

Lesley has built solid research experience in industries as diverse as consumer-packaged goods, durable goods, internet-based business, healthcare/medical devices, and nonprofit/governmental departments/organizations. Her efficiency, attention to detail, and broad knowledge of research ensure each of her projects has the highest level of accuracy and insight. Lesley earned a Bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a Certified Associate Project Manager through the Project Management Institute.

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