The Benfit of Using Market Research Online Communities


By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst

It never fails to fascinate me how much people will share about themselves online--especially for longer market research studies where typical time constraints are a non-issue and participation is at one's convenience. People can be endlessly interested to complete interactive discussions and creative challenges, even if the rewards are not immediately tangible! As qualitative or hybrid qual-quant researchers, we can foster and utilize human curiosity to the fullest in market research online communities (MROCs).

The combination of a longer MROC time frame and our innate curiosity allows the moderator and the accompanying backroom to set off on a meaningful journey with consumers. Many of the questions in MROC studies are pre-structured by the researcher, clients (and sometimes an agency or two), yet we make it a habit to leave plenty of room to play, revise, and add new topics.

With MROCs, process-driven adventures excel when they are led with experienced online moderation, including large spoonfuls of strategy, analysis and fun. (Calling Mary Poppins...)

Blossoming the conversation in a visually appealing, fun and organic fashion, with posts ranging from the serious to even silly, is more of a creative endeavor than a task.

Every day, our backroom insights are shaped by the individuals in the community as much as the group at large. Over time, consumers share and develop the most interesting points of reference, and as researchers, we identify each clue and investigate it. At any given time, the data is as granular or "big picture" as we need it to be.

What if you could lead a newly formed community on an adventure to explore products they use every day or on special occasions? What if you could explore their lives to conceptualize products that don't currently exist? What if you could craft questions to be so engaging and educational that the community members have fun on this journey (and forget that they are communicating with technology or are in a market research study to get paid)? What if they could journal their experiences in real-time every day of the study and follow how other members may be experiencing similar issues, motivations, desires, or loss, communicating these thoughts and feelings with each other?

Imagine the ideas they could share, the products and product substitutes they could seek, and the roller coaster of emotions that we can feel with them, neatly captured online or on mobile devices--in text, pictures, collages and video--day by day. We get to know who they are, individually and as a group, and by the end of it, we are celebrating new insights and Aha! moments along with birthdays, anniversaries, storm survival, holiday survival, new friendships and team accomplishments.

This is the reality at the heart of today's MROC studies--resulting in more meaningful journeys, with more individuals coming together to form fully committed, vibrant communities that are brimming with insights and co-creation, with depth beyond anything most capture from a traditional focus group. At times it can feel like stepping into the land of OZ and emerging with the key to the city.

Are MROCs part of your toolbox? If you're working with MROCs, please share your story here, and if you're not MROC-ing and/or if you're not particularly enthused about this methodology, please share your side of the story too.