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When it comes to focus groups, it’s crucial to recruit the right participants. Typically a focus group includes a small number of people, often between 8 to 12 participants, plus a moderator that helps guide the discussion. The moderator’s goal is to get participants to answer the pre-defined questions in the moderator’s guide, but also to get the respondents engaged with each other in order to facilitate an in-depth discussion on the topic at hand.

So how do you get the right people for the job?

Define the Purpose of the Focus Group – Before you start recruiting members for your focus group, you’ll need to clearly identify the goal of the discussion, which will influence the information gathered. Once you have narrowed down the topics and discussion questions, you’ll have a better understanding of who is best qualified to participate in your focus group. For example, if the goal of the focus group is to test a new product, you will want to identify participants who have used similar products or are interested in similar products.

Screen Participants – Prospective focus group participants are often pre-screened to ensure the selected individuals meet the client’s qualifications. For example, they may have a similar understanding of the product or services being discussed, or they may have different experiences/perspectives that the client wishes to learn more about. With a focus group you want a member that is either a current, lapsed, or prospective user of the product or service under investigation. This will allow the participant to have more knowledge and understanding when participating in the discussion, and will lead to higher quality data.

There are many ways to recruit participants for focus groups, but we have found success in boosting posts on social media. This allows you to reach out to members in a specific region with similar interests, often at a lower cost than other recruitment strategies. Another recruitment strategy is using a customer list, and is likely the most cost-effective solution if the information is available. Customer lists often have current customers as well as leads, which allows you to recruit focus group participants who are already interested in your product and can provide greater insight than those without a demonstrated interest or experience. Recently we have also noticed an uptick in interest in creating a custom research panel. Some companies are creating their own research panel by recruiting current and prospective users who opt-in to provide ongoing feedback. Members are pre-screened and vetted for research projects as they arise. Having an established research panel allows your company to have consumers “at the ready” for any research ventures you plan to conduct, ultimately lowering the cost of future research by gathering participants in a short amount of time. Research panels are also great for companies planning to conduct multiple research studies.

Pick the Right Location – When deciding on a location to hold the focus group, we recommend looking for a facility that is equipped to host focus groups (such as the RMS focus group facility). Focus group facilities are often equipped with digital video and audio equipment needed to record the discussion. This is necessary if the discussion needs to be transcribed, and is a major benefit when it comes to analysis of the data. Another benefit is the presence of a two-way mirror. The mirror allows those on the other side to see into the discussion room, although the participants cannot see beyond the mirror. We find that clients often like to have the option to witness the discussion, and have the opportunity to direct the moderator regarding questions that may arise during the focus group. In instances where a focus group facility is not available, RMS has also coordinated with local hotels and convention centers to coordinate the technical and logistical details of the focus group. Depending on the type of research you’re conducting, it may be important to host the focus group(s) close to those who plan to participate in the discussion. For example, if the study is gathering information on a regional product or service it would be beneficial to conduct the focus group in the sales region in order to connect with members of that community.

Offer an Incentive – It is very hard to get people to volunteer their time to participate without incentives. Incentives can range from offering them to keep or try out the product or service, to cash reimbursement for their time, or a mix of both. We often base the amount of a cash incentive on how long you plan the discussion to take, and also what amount we feel is needed keep the participants engaged and motivated. On average the incentives range from $50 – $300. As an example, we have provided $50 incentives to college students providing feedback on their experience at the institution they attend, while we have given physician’s $300 for a lengthier focus group discussion. The $50 for a short amount of time was enough to keep the college students engaged, while the $300 was necessary to recruit and engage the physicians due to their higher income and more demanding schedules.

RMS is a full-service market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our research capabilities, please contact Sandy Baker, our Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy at or by calling 1-866-567-5422. Visit our website at