In a previous blog post we addressed how, during a bulletin board focus group, you can easily get participants to provide their individual responses to your questions, yet be challenged by getting them to engage in a group dialog. We then laid out 4 strategies to employ in order to optimize such group discussion. One of these strategies was to manage participant expectations.
To effectively manage expectations during a bulletin board focus group you must do two things: (1) establish the expectations early on, and (2) continuously reinforce expectations throughout the focus group.
Establishing Expectations. You should introduce as early as possible the expectation that respondents participate in the discussion. Ideally, you should introduce it during the recruitment phase of the project by addressing it in either the recruitment email or the recruitment phone script.
To be effective you should present the expectations in a way that unambiguously imprints them in the minds of participants. Thus, you shouldn’t simply mention them in passing. Rather, you should emphatically highlight them. The best way to do this is to dedicate a full paragraph to laying them out. Here’s an example of how you might do this:
“During this discussion board focus group we will post questions twice a day, and we will expect two things of you. First, we want you to provide your own response to each question. Second, we want you to engage in a lively discussion with other participants in which you comment on each other’s answers, pose questions to each other, and, when appropriate, challenge each other. It is through such discussion that we will yield the greatest insights — and, therefore, the greatest value, from the board.”
Continuously Reinforce Expectations. Once you have established expectations, you should reinforce them throughout the remainder of the project. There are several opportunities for doing this.
You can reinforce them in every correspondence prior to the beginning of the project. For example, you can reinforce them when you email participation instructions or start-date reminders. You also can reinforce expectations by embedding a reminder every time you post a new set of questions. And you can reinforce them on an individual basis by monitoring respondents and privately requesting that those who aren’t participating join the discussion.
Managing expectations in this way will go a long way toward improving the quality of the discussion on your boards.