[caption id="attachment_48" align="alignnone" width="3264"]Focus Group at Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Stillwell, Okla. Focus Group at Ozarks Electric Cooperative in Stillwell, Okla.[/caption]

By Anna Politano, CCC, Editor, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives

How well do you know the members you serve? Are you familiar with their preferences for receiving communications from their cooperative? What is the optimal way of reaching them?

Focus groups provide a unique opportunity to learn from members in a face-to-face setting. The Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and their statewide publication, Oklahoma Living magazine, frequently hold focus group sessions throughout the state of Oklahoma to hear from members about how to communicate the cooperative message more effectively.

The interaction with members and the results from focus group sessions have been of great value to the magazine’s editorial staff as they strive to enhance the publication with each edition. Focus group feedback has aided the staff on several redesign projects, on the creation of a digital and social media strategy, as well as in shaping content for the publication.

There are several ways and methods to conduct a focus group. In this example from Oklahoma, the statewide communications staff partners with local distribution co-ops to hold focus group sessions with co-op members to ask questions that relate both to the statewide publication as well as the co-op’s communications efforts.

This is how it works:

  • The statewide staff asks a distribution co-op to invite 10 to 12 members from diverse backgrounds. It’s important to have a mix of young adults, working parents, middle-aged adults, retired and senior citizens.
  • Typically, the focus group takes place in a meeting room at the co-op in a roundtable style. The meetings are usually in the evenings and last nearly 2 to 2 ½ hours.
  • The co-op and the statewide sponsor a meal to enjoy with the participating members.
  • The statewide Director of Public Relations, Communications and Research, Sid Sperry, facilitates the focus group question-and-answer sessions.
  • The first part of the focus group is comprised of questions developed by the magazine editorial staff. The questions are asked to each member and the staff records member responses. If there are couples attending the focus group, they are each asked to provide their own opinion independent of the other.
  • In a second question-and-answer session, questions asked to members relate directly to the co-op’s communications strategy.
  • Generally, about 3 to 4 co-op employees attend the focus group.

The exchange of ideas and feedback are helpful both to the cooperative and to the statewide communications staff.

Focus groups are a powerful tool to understand members’ preferences for receiving communications. More often than not, members want to be heard and enjoy sharing their opinions.

There are several third-party research organizations that specialize on hosting focus groups, but they usually come with a hefty price. If there are no budget funds allocated for an independent organization, it is still possible to conduct meaningful, member focus groups with your statewide staff and local co-op staff.

If you have questions or would like to discuss any of the items above in more detail, please contact Sid Sperry at sksperry@oaec.coop or Anna Politano at editor@ok-living.coop