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Why Market Research Online Communities Make Sense

For qualitative research companies, market research online communities provide an efficient, flexible, and robust tool for generating consumer insights.

These days, people connect online with each other and with the companies that they patronize. That’s one reason why a qualitative marketing research agency may suggest using online communities to gain a deep understanding of customers.

Market research online communities only came into being about a decade ago, pioneered by the UK’s Further, which describes itself as a Human Insights company. Further’s team saw the potential of emergent Web 2.0 technology to conduct qualitative research online. Despite the relative newness of using these online research groups, they’ve rapidly gained importance as a way to help data-driven companies better understand their market.

What are market research online communities?

Sometimes called “MROCs” or “insight communities”, marketers might compare market research online communities to traditional focus groups. Instead of gathering the group together in a room, qualitative research companies gather their groups entirely online. Group organizers pick participants that fit some criteria, like demographics that fit a buyer persona, general interests, or specific experiences. But unlike a traditional focus group, where all participants are physically present at the same time, MROCs enable participants to log in and out of the community whenever it is convenient for them to do so. The asynchronous nature of MROCs enables participants from different parts of the country – or different parts of the world – to engage in qualitative research studies.

When they join the community, these participants may perform various tasks. Some examples include surveys, discussions, brainstorms, and even games. Each of these activities helps the researchers gather the information that marketers can use to improve test theories, answer questions, or further define their market. While this article mostly discusses these online groups for insight-driven qualitative marketing research, scholars also use them to gather information for studies.

Three common kinds of MROCs

This list briefly explains the three common kinds of MROCs:

  • Short-term: These communities only last from a few days to a few months and can yield quick insights with a modest budget. Typically, researchers have tightly focused goals and engage with up to 60 participants.
  • Pop-up: Sometimes also called “on-off communities”, researchers will summon these groups as the need arises. They generally use from 50 to 250 participants. A qualitative marketing research agency may suggest a pop-up community when they have a limited budget and few questions but want to keep options open for more research in the future.
  • Continuous: Researchers keep a long-term or even permanent community open when they see a consistent need for answers and have the budget to support it. These may require up to 5,000 participants and a dedicated team of staff to manage and moderate.

Benefits of MROCs for qualitative user research

Successful advertising, marketing, and even product development depend upon high-quality marketing research. Marketers find that running online communities lets them make efficient use of their research budget because they’re:

  • Cost- and time-effective: Online research platforms can provide the tools to affordably and easily manage all kinds of groups, engaging with participants in multiple timezones, and including feedback from people who find it difficult or impossible to travel to attend a traditional, in-person focus group. 
  • Flexible: Researchers can determine how long to run the group, how many participants to include, and the kinds of activities to use for information gathering. While some businesses benefit from running continuous online communities, others can meet their goals rapidly.
  • Robust: Platforms for conducting MROCs have a lot of the same features that online forums and social networks offer. In fact, some businesses even use groups in existing social networks, though purpose-designed platforms can provide tools that make tracking and managing participants easier. In either case, it’s possible to host discussions, conduct polls, and even post pictures and videos.
  • Profitable: Having a way to gather high-quality information also helps businesses maximize returns from other marketing activities. For instance, they can learn how to target ads or which features to include in their product design.

Market researchers can trust the overall quality of the information they receive from these online groups. It’s easy to segment participants in real-time, based on their comments or demographics, and to tag verbatim quotes for qualitative analysis. Some people may perfectly fit the target but feel reticent about expressing their opinion in a room full of others. In-person focus groups generally have to stick to a tight schedule; however, online communities can allow more flexibility.

With the relatively anonymous nature of sitting behind a keyboard, participants often feel more relaxed about speaking up. Because they can log in online, respondents also have the luxury of chiming in when the existing discussion has helped them frame their thoughts. Sometimes, researchers even add an element of gamification or social engagement to the mix to help encourage participation.

Why online communities make sense

These days, consumers compare, shop, and even socialize online. It only makes sense to include marketing research online communities in every toolbox of marketing research techniques. When compared to more traditional forms of surveying the target audience, they also provide a robust solution that can help spare budgets and improve bottom lines.

BONUS: Listen to Stephen Cribbett and Terri Sorenson from Further discuss the benefits of qualitative marketing research online communities with Bigeye’s VP of Insights on our podcast, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

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