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Main > Archives > 2009 > April > Data Value: Online Sentiment Analysis vs. Face-to-Face Focus Groups

Friday, April 10, 2009

Data Value: Online Sentiment Analysis vs. Face-to-Face Focus Groups

focus group vs. polldaddy

Our tech-obsessed society has replaced face time with Facebook time. For this generation, it's much easier to offer our feedback with a brief rant compared to the spefic details from a survey.

As as result, corporations are creating blogs and forums on their sites to establish consumer touch points,which raises an important question for marketers: How valuable are qualitative and personal focus groups compared to online surveys and sentiment analysis?

In some cases, the answer depends on your intent and your target audience. Obviously, if you're seeking the opinion of people who don't consider themselves frequent Internet users, an online survey form isn't the optimal survey method. When it comes to web experience and expertise, the 55-and older crowd is usually lumped into the aforementioned group, however, an entry in Reuters revealed that Twitter's user base is older than you'd expect, with 10 million unique visitors over the age of 35 last month.
In the U.S , 10 percent of Twitter users  between 55 and 64, nearly the same amount of users as those between 18 and 24, which accounted for 10.6 percent of the total.

Consider the benefits of an online sentiment analysis or online survey, whether it's Survey U, Nielsen buzzmetrics, Socialtoo, Polldaddy , Vocus,or Vertical Response. There are also several limitations within the format that are worth considering before your conduct or analyze your own online survey or sentiment analysis scan.

Online surveys and sentiment analysis

  • Data from forums,blogs and commentscan be obtained organized within minutes.
  • Easy to distribute and publish reports to a mass audience.
  • Large samples sizes available.


  • Limited demographic info for each participant.
  • Limited assurance of authentic and unique answers. (One person can create several usernames and provide the same answers.)
  • Impersonal aspect reduces reliability of results (Machines can't detect sarcasm.)

To provide the perspective of the focus group advocate, I cracked open one of my books from J school: Research in Mass Communication: A practical guide, written by  Paula Poindexter (Seriously) and Maxwell E. McCombs, both from the University of Texas.

The book explains the methodology, application and reward of conducting surveys, including focus groups, as well a census, random surveys and non-random. According to Poindexter and Maxwell, focus groups provide researchers with unique and valuable information that can't derived from other methods.

Focus groups simply provide insight into the attitudes feelings and motivations of participants and suggest hypothesis and research questions.  Even though focus group results cannot be projected to the population, the research expert can make recommendations based on emerging themes.

Face-to-face focus groups


  • Ensured authenticity of each participant.
  • Body language and non-verbal indicators.
  • Follow-up questions to each response.
  • Detailed profiles of participants.
  • Provide deeper insight to each participant.


  • Require participants to travel.
  • Meeting date and duration limits potential sample size.
  • Limited sample size.
  • Limited demographic diversity.

You may wonder, "Isn't there a way to combine the best personal elements of focus groups and the high volume of online sentiment analysis."

One solution is a specific survey geared toward a niche audience, such as Survey U with college students or  Alterian's focus on marketers. However, no matter how detailed or deep an online survey probes, it can't offer the pollster with the non-verbal indicators of a focus group, so if those are valuable insights for your research, you may have to do it "the old fashioned way."

By Matt O'Hern at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

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