Take Part in Research: Join a Paid Focus Group

Updated on October 14, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Focus research is about individual opinions not general ones. It is qualitative research rather than quantitative.
Focus research is about individual opinions not general ones. It is qualitative research rather than quantitative. | Source

Earn Some Money by Giving Your Opinion

I enjoy having a good discussion with friends. Our chat consists of a genuine (and polite) exchange of views, and does not degenerate into argument. At the end of our conversation we are still friends and have learned a little more about each other. Focus groups are a bit like that. They are a controlled dialog between strangers which takes place in a relaxed atmosphere. Not only are they fun, but you are paid a cash sum to take part.

If you join a focus group you will be expected to contribute to the discussion. You will express opinions and be able to justify them. By the end of the session, you will have the satisfaction that you have contributed to a research project, earned some money, and your views are going to be heard by decision-makers.

How to Be Selected For a Discussion Group

  • Register with several market research agencies. This type of earning opportunity is very competitive, so you will need to respond quickly when you receive an invite to participate.
  • Respond to classified adverts in places like Gumtree and Craigslist. News-sheets regularly host focus group ads targeting people with specific or unusual attributes.
  • Be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to rely on Lady Luck to win at this game.

If you are keen to be selected for a focus group discussion, try all these methods and eventually you should succeed.

Have you ever taken part in a focus group?

See results

What Are Focus Discussion Groups?

Focus groups are a type of market research. They give qualitative (subjective) results rather than quantitative (objective) data. Both types of information are important.

“Number-crunching” statistics are quantitative information (numerical) and describe a situation across an entire population. For example, data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2010, shows that more than two-thirds of adults in the US are classified as overweight or obese. This evidence helps politicians and businesses decide how much they should spend on health support and on which goods and services.

However, the stark fact of 66 per-cent of Americans being overweight does not describe an individual’s experience of coping with obesity. For example, if you are a low-income ethnic minority individual, you may have poor access to fresh fruit and vegetables in your neighborhood. This would adversely affect your attempts to eat more healthily. Without knowing this, money could be wasted by the government on a badly-targeted health promotion campaign.

Focus groups are a way of finding out why specific people act the way they do. Is there something stopping or encouraging them to take a particular course of action. There could be cultural or financial reasons; a focus group facilitates an open expression of individual views.

How Do Focus Groups Work?

Register Online with Focus Group Agencies

The most straightforward method to join a focus group is to register online with a specialist market research agency. You will be asked for a lot of personal information; so before you sign up, read the small print.

A reputable agency will have a clearly stated data protection policy. They will promise not to pass on your details for purposes other than that of screening for membership of a focus group. If you are unsure about a company’s credentials, check them out. (See list of professional market research bodies at the end of this article).

To create an online account, you complete a detailed questionnaire about your finances, your family situation, your political leanings and your health history. This helps the agency select the right people for a focus group. When you reply to a specific invitation you will be asked further screening questions. This ensures you match the client’s criteria for the discussion group.

Online registration is a simple process. However, thousands of people register for a chance to be in a focus group and all are in competition with you for opportunities. A discussion group usually has between six and ten participants, and some interviews are conducted with just a single individual. This means very few people receive an invitation. In addition, agencies send out more invites than people needed to allow for some refusals. So, if you do receive one, accept it promptly.

Accept a focus group Invitation promptly.
Accept a focus group Invitation promptly. | Source

Respond to Adverts in Gumtree and Craigslist

Sometimes a company wants opinions from a very narrow group of people. For example, a child car-seat manufacturer may want to understand how their product is perceived in relation to the competition.

They want views of parents of children under two-years old who retrofitted a car-seat. The market research company has only a few on their books that meet the criteria. Gumtree and Craigslist are therefore used to find the right candidates. Your chance of being selected is good if you are a match.

Be in the Right Place at the Right Time

Serendipity has rewarded me with a place in a focus group several times. The very first one I participated in was to discuss a new chocolate bar. I was in a shopping mall and was approached by someone with a clipboard. I was asked a few general questions (screeners) and then offered the chance to join a focus group there and then if I had an hour to spare. It was fun, the chocolate was tasty and I earned US $50 for an hour’s work.

Another time, I was out with a walking group. One of the members was a recruiter for a market research company. I was asked some screening questions to see if I was the right “fit” and then given details of the focus group for the following week. That time I earned US $100 for 2 hours discussion about health spending priorities and enjoyed a free buffet meal during the session.

A cross-section of the population gives their views.
A cross-section of the population gives their views. | Source

What Does a Focus Group Involve?

Each session will be slightly different but the following gives a general idea of what to expect if you take part in a focus group.

  • Your conversation will be recorded (audio) and you may be videoed too.
  • You will be observed; either covertly behind a one-way mirror or overtly with watchers in the room.
  • You will be in a small group; usually 6-10 people.
  • You will be informed beforehand how much you will be paid and how long the session will last.
  • You will be in a group of strangers.
  • You may withdraw from the research at any time, but if you do, you will not be paid and you will be removed from the agency’s list.

The video below shows a real focus group session. The research topic was whether childhood obesity is influenced by cultural factors. Notice how the facilitator encourages the quieter ones to participate fully in the conversation. She makes sure the client gets their money’s worth from everyone.

A Focus Group Discusses Childhood Obesity

Pros and Cons of Focus Group Discussions

The main advantage of facilitated group discussions is that a researcher can find unexpected answers are given by participants. Using open questions and allowing the discussion to flow freely, means minority opinions are aired in a non-threatening environment. The downside of this is that the facilitator can lose control of the discussion and the group conversation strays from the intended topic.

Market researchers like to use focus groups as they are relatively cheap to organize (compared to a full-scale consumer survey.) Discussion groups can also be used to clarify why a particular product or campaign has been a success or failure. However, enlisting a representative group of people to the group is crucial to ensure balanced results in this type of research.

Views Sought On Salad Dressing Packaging

Can I Get Paid to be in an Online Politics Focus Group?

Close to elections, focus groups form specifically to discuss politics and politicians. Some of these are created by market research companies on behalf of political parties. Some are ad hoc groups that meet on Facebook or other social media.

Payment to take part in a political opinion focus group may be small or nothing at all. This is because most people are eager to give feedback to politicians about how well (or badly) their country is governed. There is often no need for cash to be offered to get a good cross-section of opinion on political topics.

More About Market Research Focus Groups

In the US, a reputable focus group market research company is likely to be a member of one of the following organizations. Check with them if you have any doubts about whether a focus group or market research project is legitimate.

American Marketing Association (AMA)

International Social Marketing Association (iSMA)

Marketing Research Association (MRA)

Council of American Survey Research (CASRO)

American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR)


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