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Internet Interv. 2017 Sep;9:106-111. doi: 10.1016/j.invent.2017.07.005. Epub 2017 Jul 25.

Conducting online focus groups on Facebook to inform health behavior change interventions: Two case studies and lessons learned.

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Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco.
Department of Psychiatry and Weill Institute for Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco.



Online social media offer great potential for research participant recruitment and data collection. We conducted synchronous (real-time) online focus groups (OFGs) through Facebook with the target population of young adult substance users to inform development of Facebook health behavior change interventions. In this paper we report methods and lessons learned for future studies.


In the context of two research studies participants were recruited through Facebook and assigned to one of five 90-minute private Facebook OFGs. Study 1 recruited for two OFGs with young adult sexual and/or gender minority (SGM) smokers (range: 9 to 18 participants per group); Study 2 recruited for three groups of young adult smokers who also engage in risky drinking (range: 5 to 11 participants per group).


Over a period of 11 (Study 1) and 22 days (Study 2), respectively, we recruited, assessed eligibility, collected baseline data, and assigned a diverse sample of participants from all over the US to Facebook groups. For Study 1, 27 of 35 (77%) participants invited attended the OFGs, and 25 of 32 (78%) for Study 2. Participants in Study 1 contributed an average of 30.9 (SD=8.9) comments with an average word count of 20.1 (SD=21.7) words, and 36.0 (SD=12.3) comments with 11.9 (SD=13.5) words on average in Study 2. Participants generally provided positive feedback on the study procedures.


Facebook can be a feasible and efficient medium to conduct synchronous OFGs with young adults. This data collection strategy has the potential to inform health behavior change intervention development.


Facebook; focus groups; intervention development; qualitative research; substance use; young adults

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