The Dirty Secret of the Research Industry -
What to Do about Professional Focus Group Participants

Professional focus group participants – respondents - are widespread in focus group consumer research.

Professional respondents are people who attend focus groups to make money. It is part-time job for them. Cash incentives and prizes are the attraction. It’s easy money.

You don’t want professional respondents in your group.

Professional respondents are a big waste of time and money.

Hot Air and Sample Bias

Professional respondents often provide answers to please the moderator. Answers are often misleading.

Some provide shallow answers.

Some let other respondents do the talking. But they take your money.

Professional respondents bias the sample. They destroy the validity and reliability of data. They skew. They bend. They distort.

A Sub Industry - Professional Respondents

Dozens and dozens of websites exist, dedicated to professional respondents. Paid focus group is a popular search term.

The websites coach respondents how to sign-up for focus groups, how to act, and what to say during focus groups. Several articles, on popular websites, explain exactly what to do in a focus group, as a respondent. There is even an e-book explaining how to join a focus group.

I estimate professional focus group respondents collect millions of dollars a year in incentives, in the U.S.

Corporations are being bilked.

Yet, focus group facilities and recruiters continue to recruit professional focus group participants.

Most don’t do it on purpose. Clever professionals slip through the screeners and past the data-bases. But, some facilities recruit professionals, turning a blind eye, when recruiting is tough, or deadlines are looming and quotas are not filled.

I see it all too often, as focus group moderator.

What to Do about It – Recruiters and Data-Bases

Screen out pros, if you can.

Work with recruiters to weed out professional respondents.

Good recruiters should be able to spot professional respondents. Recruiters keep databases about respondents. Recruiters can check the number of times respondents have previously joined in focus groups, using their database.

Ask focus group recruiters to check proof of respondent identification, usually a driver license, before respondents enter a focus group room. Don’t let respondents in, if they can’t show identification.


Tell your recruiter, professional respondents are unacceptable. Talk to the recruiter directly and the focus group manager and tell them.

Warn your focus group facility and recruiter not to pass on professional respondents.

If a respondent regularly attends focus groups once week or once a month, tell your recruiter to tell you the truth. Nothing but the truth.

Don’t use the facility again, if they don’t heed your warnings.

Depth Interviews

Professional respondents are less of a problem with one-on-one, depth interviews, in consumer research. You can spot the fakes and pros quickly, after a couple of questions. Professional respondents cannot hide, as they can in a group.

And, depth interviews produce as much data and information as focus groups.

And professional respondents are less of problem in B2B groups. You rarely see them there.

In conclusion, work with recruiters to screen out professional focus group participants from consumer research.

Be on guard and be demanding. Research credibility is at stake.

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